N 2005, THE WITHERSPOON SCHOOL of Law and Public Policy held a conference in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The school’s name was something of a misnomer: Rather than grant JDs, Witherspoon staged seminars and lectures offering lessons in what it summarized as “the comprehensive biblical foundation for our common law and constitutional government.” Its target audience was homeschooled young men. The school itself was a project of Vision Forum, a Texas-based ministry whose founder was also a leader in the Christian Patriarchy movement, which preaches, among other things, that husbands should vote for their wives.
Timeline: The Personhood Movement
Most sitting judges would go to great pains to avoid such a gathering. But Tom Parker, then a few months into his first term on the Alabama Supreme Court, gladly accepted an invitation to speak at that year’s Witherspoon retreat. Before his election to Alabama’s highest court, Parker had been an aide-de-camp to Chief Justice Roy Moore, whose installation of a granite Ten Commandments monument in the state judiciary building had touched off what became for Alabama both a considerable embarrassment and a genuine constitutional crisis. At Parker’s swearing-in, he made it clear that he had sought the bench to continue his old boss’s spiritual fight.
“The very God of Holy Scriptures, the Creator, is the source of law, life, and liberty,” he declared to an audience that included his eight unsmiling fellow justices.
The atmosphere at Parker’s Witherspoon appearance was far warmer, and his remarks there were even more candid. A DVD of the session shows him gripping the lectern, dressed in a gray suit and blue tie, as he railed against the perceived sins of jurists at every level. “It’s the judges who have legalized abortion and homosexuality … They are shaking the very foundation of our society.” Parker made it clear that he had no intention of letting legal precedent get in his way. “We cannot fall under that trap,” he insisted. “We have to stand for what’s right.” The one thing he most wished for the young men before him was that they find a way to gain positions of influence and turn them to God’s purpose. No opportunity to do so should be shrunk from or wasted.
In the nine years Parker has now served on the court, he has made the most of his opportunities. Child custody disputes, for instance, have made good occasions to expound on the role of religion in parental rights. (“Because God, not the state, has granted parents the authority and responsibility to govern their children, parents should be able to do so unfettered by state interference,” he wrote in one case.) But Parker has been the most creative in his relentless campaign to undermine legal abortion. Again and again, he has taken cases that do not directly concern reproductive rights, or even reproductive issues, and found ways to use them to argue for full legal status for the unborn.
Those efforts have made Parker a pivotal figure in the so-called personhood movement, which has its roots in a loophole in Roe v. Wade. While that 1973 ruling was creating a broad new right to abortion grounded in a constitutionally protected right to privacy, an often-overlooked passage left an opening for those who would seek its undoing. Duringoral arguments, the justices had asked Roe’s lawyer what would happen if a fetus were held to be a person under the Constitution. “I would have a very difficult case,” she had replied. In his majority opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun noted that the Supreme Court could find no basis for such status, before adding, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, [Roe’s] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed.”
Roe’s fiercest critics immediately took up the challenge, launching a push for a constitutional amendment affirming that life begins at conception. But that first effort fizzled, and it’s only in recent years that a new wave of pro-life activists—many of them born after Roe and educated in fundamentalist Christian settings—have once again seized on personhood as a way not just of weakening Roe, but of overturning it. In state after state, they have been pushing to have their beliefs enshrined in policy. This November 4, in Colorado, voters will cast ballots on Amendment 67, an initiative that would include unborn human beings under the definition of “person” and “child” throughout the state’s criminal code. North Dakotans, meanwhile, will decide on Measure 1, which would alter the state constitution to recognize the “inalienable right to life” at every stage of human development.
Even if both initiatives fall short, others will follow. The first one to pass doubtlessly will then be challenged in court, igniting the potentially decisive battle that personhood advocates really want. Their goal is to get to the U.S. Supreme Court — as quickly as possible, while conservatives still dominate.
Christian-educated lawyers have been preparing for that day, churning out articles published by Christian law journals, which are then cited in briefs submitted to courts by Christian-right legal organizations. But given their provenance, the impact of those arguments has been limited. Parker, a graduate of Dartmouth and Vanderbilt who counts Clarence Thomas as a role model, has the imprimatur of his office behind him, and he has used it to build a body of reasoning that can be cited and re-cited, helping to frame and refine the thinking of other lawyers and judges in the battles ahead. “Now, it’s not just an obscure law-review article making these arguments,” said Glen Halva-Neubauer, a Furman University political scientist who studies anti-abortion activism. “It’s not just some treatise that twenty-five of your right-to-life friends know about and nobody else. The mainstream effect is not inconsequential.”
And that, of course, was the idea all along. “What Justice Parker has done,” said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the nonprofit National Advocates for Pregnant Women, “is explicitly lay out the roadmap for overturning Roe v. Wade.”
The Human Life Amendment, as personhood advocates’ first big push was commonly known, was ahead of its time. In the wake of Roe, pro-choice groups — which then included many centrist Republicans — had the momentum. Personhood proponents hoped in vain that Ronald Reagan’s election and the GOP’s capture of the Senate in 1980 would turn the tide, but the comparatively moderate pro-life mainstream wasn’t fully on board. By the time the Supreme Court reaffirmed a core right to abortion in the landmark 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the movement had shifted to its own incremental approach. Targeting legislatures in conservative states, it sought tougher penalties for fetal homicides, and, later, birth certificates for stillborn babies. The revised approach alarmed abortion-rights advocates because it was so emotionally resonant — and effective.
The basic holding of Roe obviously remains in place, and more than one million legal abortions are performed in the United States every year. Yet the personhood movement has made significant inroads. Today, 38 states have fetal-homicide statutes that make it a crime to cause the death of an unborn child during an act of domestic violence, for example, or while driving drunk. At least 15 have laws that make the pregnancy of a homicide victim an aggravating factor that can lead to the death penalty. And more and more jurisdictions have begun policing pregnant women themselves. In almost every state, women have been arrested or detained for exposing their fetuses to illegal drugs; in more than half of them, mothers can lose some or even all of their custody rights if they or their newborn tests positive for controlled substances. In some places, legislators have written laws expressly authorizing such steps. (Tennessee’s new statute goes the furthest, allowing pregnant drug-users to be charged with criminal assault.) More commonly, it’s constables and prosecutors who’ve taken the initiative, reinterpreting existing laws to detain and arrest mothers. “One clever thing about using drug cases this way,” said Sara Zeigler, a feminist scholar and dean at Eastern Kentucky University, “is that the average person is not going to be at all sympathetic” to a pregnant woman who gets high. Thanks to moves such as these, the idea that a fetus has rights separate from its mother’s has taken root in the law and flourished, even when the more controversial subject of fetal personhood is not directly invoked.
Parker’s own calling wasn’t clear for many years. He was born to a middle-class Montgomery family in 1952, at the dawn of the modern civil rights era, a few miles from the bus stops and churches where it all began. At a time when many white families were fleeing to segregated Christian academies, he attended the city’s public schools. (His senior year, he was student body president and, according to his classmates, “Most Sincere.”) At Dartmouth, he thought he might become a historian, but ultimately chose law school instead.
What he found at Vanderbilt Law School in the mid-1970s shocked him. The religious roots of American law were a forbidden topic. There were no classes specifically devoted to the founding document of American jurisprudence, he said.
“They teach you about what judges say about the Constitution rather than having you go back and study the Constitution,” he told a gathering last year.
As a young lawyer, Parker led fights to restore God to everyday life in the state — particularly in its schools and textbooks. But he often wound up frustrated, never more so than when a landmark school prayer case he worked on went down to defeat before the U.S. Supreme Court. He complained that the court’s 1985 decision in Wallace v. Jaffree was “the greatest setback to religious liberty that has ever occurred in this country.”
After a stint as a lobbyist, during which he helped establish two think tanks affiliated with James Dobson’s hugely influential Focus on the Family, Parker became a confidant of Roy Moore, then a county judge. When Moore became chief justice of the state Supreme Court in 2000, Parker served as his legal lieutenant, strategist and spokesman. And when Moore’s final Ten Commandments crusade ended in debacle, Parker was ousted, too.
If unemployed, Parker was hardly finished. He went to work at Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law, a think tank devoted “to protect[ing] the Constitution and protect[ing] the heritage of our Country.” It promoted the far-right strain of Christianity known asReconstructionism — supporters believe that the Bible should be the governing text for all areas of civil and political life; that America’s Christian founders intended it to be a Christian land; that there is no law without God; that the law and the Constitution don’t evolve any more than humans do, but are fixed and immutable. The Foundation was also a champion of the newly revived personhood movement — indeed, it claimed the group Personhood Alabama as one of its projects.
Parker won a spot on the state’s top court in 2004. Once elected, he freely recruited the kinds of committed, somewhat eclectic culture combatants who made up Moore’s circle. For the powerful behind-the-scenes job of chief of staff, he chose John Eidsmoe, an ex-law professor and author of several seminal Reconstructionist works — “the top Biblical law commander of the era,” according to Frederick Clarkson, a journalist and historian of far-right religious movements and senior fellow at Political Research Associates.
Two of Parker’s quirkiest hires were Alex and Brett Harris, 16-year-old homeschooled twins from outside Portland, Ore., whose blog, Rebelution (tagline: “a teenage rebellion against low expectations”) had made them the Jonas Brothers of the Christian homeschool world. After they blogged about one of his opinions, Parker took them on for a two-month legal internship; despite their lack of training, they quickly progressed from filing memos to researching and drafting legal opinions. A few months after that, in 2006, Parker made them the grassroots directors in his (failed) campaign to become chief justice. “They demonstrated a maturity comparable to the law students we’ve had, and sometimes exceeding that maturity,” Parker raved.
n 2013, a case landed on the Alabama Supreme Court docket that presented Parker with yet another opportunity to attack Roe v. Wade. One of the plaintiffs, Hope Ankrom, from Coffee County south of Montgomery, had pleaded guilty after her son tested positive for cocaine and marijuana at birth. The other, Amanda Kimbrough, from rural northwestern Alabama, had used methamphetamine while pregnant, giving birth 15 weeks prematurely to a boy who soon died. Facing the possibility of life in prison, she opted for a plea deal and a 10 year sentence in the notorious Tutwiler state penitentiary for women. But no Alabama laws specifically authorized the women’s arrests and convictions. Instead, prosecutors had charged them under a felony “chemical endangerment” statute enacted in 2006 to protect children from the noxious fumes and explosive chemicals that make home-based meth labs so dangerous.
Lawyers for Ankrom and Kimbrough argued that the state had grossly overreached, pointing out that legislators had debated — and rejected — expanding the meth-lab law to cover pregnant women. Parker, along with five other justices, didn’t buy it. He declared that the chemical-endangerment law did indeed apply to fetuses exposed to drugs in the womb. But again, Parker didn’t leave it at that. His main opinion in Ex Parte Ankron and Kimbrough ran 55 pages. His concurrence ran another 20.
This time, Parker’s goal was to establish the many ways that existing statutes recognize fetuses as persons with legally enforceable rights. The document is a kind of masterpiece of pro-life reasoning. “He’s someone who really takes time to read history and the development of jurisprudence,” said Mat Staver, the head of Liberty Counsel and a leading Christian legal theorist. “He’s not a surface thinker.” Step by step, Parker lays out his evidence: laws that give inheritance rights to unborn children, laws that ban pregnant inmates from being executed, laws that give fetuses legal guardians for the purposes of protecting their interests, laws that allow parents to sue for damages if fetuses are injured or killed as the result of negligence or some other wrongful act. Several pages of the concurrence consist almost entirely of lists of statutes from around the country conferring fetal rights. “Today, the only major area in which unborn children are denied legal protection is abortion,” he concluded, “and that denial is only because of the dictates of Roe.”
This past spring, as if to punctuate its reasoning, the Alabama Supreme Court confronted a virtually identical case, and, with Parker again writing the majority opinion, reached a virtually identical conclusion. In this concurrence, Parker called on the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the matter of full fetal rights once and for all.
The Court will soon have its chances, if it wants to take them. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit just upheld a set of abortion regulations in Texas that have shut down most of that state’s abortion clinics, the appeal of which the justices could well agree to hear. Meanwhile, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women is putting together a lawsuit that would challenge Alabama’s chemical-endangerment prosecutions, which now number at least 130. Going to the Supreme Court on any issue that touches on abortion feels increasingly risky for pro-choice supporters. Anthony Kennedy remains the swing vote, and, on the one hand, he has argued that people must be allowed “to define one’s own concept of existence.” On the other, he has upheld almost every abortion restriction to come before him. Staver is hopeful that Kennedy’s concern for “the dignity of the individual,” a recent theme of his ever-unpredictable reasoning, may make him newly amenable to overturning Roe on personhood grounds.
Pro-choice advocates, not surprisingly, are deeply worried about any ideas that Parker’s writings could give the justices in Washington. “Parker is pointing out all the ways the law treats the fetus as a person already,” Zeigler, the feminist scholar, said. “The pro-choice argument, meanwhile, is that the personhood of the fetus hinges entirely on the women’s perception of it.” To the question of what constitutes life, she continued, “Parker has answers. The pro-choice side is more, ‘It depends.’ … People will really struggle with that.”
New Anti-Choice Group Launches With Michael Peroutka Lecture On How Roe v. Wade Isn't Actually The Law
Last weekend, Iowa conservative talk show host Steve Deace held an event to launch Personhood Iowa, a new group he helped organize that is affiliated with the National Personhood Alliance, a new coalition of groups that seek to outlaw abortion in all cases along with banning common forms of birth control.
In keeping with the group’s apparent mission to be so extreme that it will never attract any mainstream support, Deace invited Michael Peroutka, a regular guest on his radio show, to give an opening speech to Personhood Iowa activists.
Peroutka, in addition to running the far-right Institute on the Constitution and a successful debt-collection business that allowed him to buy a dinosaur for the Creation Museum, is now the GOP nominee for a seat on the Anne Arundel, Maryland, county council. Peroutka’s close ties with the neo-Confederate League of the South is causing hand-wringing in the state Republican party, with its gubernatorial nominee today disavowing Peroutka’s candidacy.
Peroutka — who recently declared that the Maryland General Assembly is no longer a valid legislative body because its passage of marriage equality violated “God’s law” — told the Iowa activists that everything from seat-belt mandates to the progressive income tax to Obamacare to Roe v. Wade are not valid laws because government only has the authority to uphold what he deems to be “organic law.” In fact, he said, all of these things are “pretended legislation,” a term used in the Declaration of Independence to refer to acts of Parliament governing the American colonies.
Peroutka also presented the audience with a contrast between what he sees as the “biblical worldview,” which he says is based on the idea of literal biblical creationism, and the “pagan worldview,” which he says is based on the theory of evolution.
The theory of evolution, he claimed, was responsible for the Columbine school shooting and the Holocaust, yet is still being taught through “the tragedy of public education.”
Peroutka has previously argued that it is impossible to be a patriotic American and also believe in evolution.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
This Bill Could End State Abortion Restrictions and Safeguard Against The Erosion Of Roe v. Wade | The Nation
For years the pro-choice movement has had to battle a wide array of restrictions passed on the state level, from onerous regulations on abortion clinics to “fetal pain” bills that deliberately give women bad information about abortion procedures. In fact, from 2011 through 2013, more than 200 state laws were passed that make it harder for women to access abortion services.
But the Senate Judiciary Committee held an important hearing Tuesday on a bill that could, in one swoop, clear out most of those laws. The Women’s Health Protection Act, introduced last year by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin, enumerates many of these laws that would be expressly prohibited and keeps abortion providers from being singled out by legislation that doesn’t apply broadly to most other medical services in the state.
Republican Senators and witnesses at the hearing, as one would expect, objected strenuously to the legislation. They relentlessly brought up the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia-area abortion doctor who repeatedly broke the law and carried out gruesome, illegal abortions. Their message was that these state laws just aim to make abortion safer and avoid more cases like Gosnell’s.
In reality, Gosnell was already operating well outside the bounds of the law and is actually a better example of what would happen were abortion to be outlawed entirely. As Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, testified at the hearing, that is the real and often stated goal of these laws:
[O]pponents of women’s reproductive rights, seeking to make an end run around public opinion and the Constitution itself, have shifted their strategy. They have resorted to obfuscating their true agenda by pushing laws that pretend to be about one thing but are actually about another. They claim these laws are about defending women’s health and well-being, and improving the safety of abortion care—but they most assuredly are not. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are advanced by politicians, not by doctors, often based on model legislation written by explicitly anti-abortion groups.
When Mississippi enacted such a law in 2012, a state senator put it quite plainly: “There’s only one abortion clinic in Mississippi. I hope this measure shuts that down.” Others showed their hands as well. Lt. Governor Tate Reeves stated that the measure “should effectively close the only abortion clinic in Mississippi” and “end abortion in Mississippi” when the bill passed the state Senate. Governor Phil Bryant, in vowing to sign the bill, said that he would “continue to work to make Mississippi abortion-free.” When he actually signed it, he said, “If it closes that clinic, then so be it.” Right now, Mississippi’s sole clinic is holding on by virtue of a temporary court order.
The legislation has essentially no chance of passing this Congress, but for pro-choice advocates, presents a chance to at least go on the offensive. It also may be needed in coming months as a backstop to a potential Supreme Court decision that could severely restrict abortion access.
Many federal courts have blocked this sort of state legislation as de facto abortion bans, as Northrup noted. But legal experts are increasingly convinced the Court may take up one of these cases in the next term—and that five conservative justices could move to affirm these abortion-restricting laws and effectively hollow out Roe v. Wade. The Women’s Health Protection Act would be a simple way to neutralize that decision, should it come.
A group of 16 male lawmakers in Michigan have introduced a package of bills that would criminalize abortions after a fetal heartbeat can first be detected. So-called “fetal heartbeat” measures, which can outlaw the procedure as early as five or six weeks, represent the most radical type of abortion ban that’s ever been approved on a state level.
House Bill 5643, House Bill 5644, and House Bill 5645 were introduced as companion measures this week. The first measure requires doctors to find the fetal heartbeat and offer women a chance to listen to it before proceeding with an abortion; the second two would ban the procedure altogether after that point, and level a $50,000 fine against doctors who violate that rule.
In order to detect a fetal heartbeat at the earliest stage, doctors typically need to use an invasive transvaginal probe — something that has sparked outrage in the past, as women’s health advocates have decried mandatory probes as state-sponsored rape.
The leading anti-choice group in the state, Right to Life of Michigan, has declined to throw its weight behind the second two bills. A spokesperson for the group told Michigan Radio that they support the conversation about “the fact that this is an actual baby with a heartbeat,” but they do not believe a six-week abortion ban would hold up in court.
Indeed, it’s not much of a leap to assume that Michigan would be in for a costly legal battle if the legislature approves a harsh six-week ban. After North Dakota became the first state in the country to approve a heartbeat ban last year, a federal judge overturned it, pointing out that it’s blatantly unconstitutional. Under Roe v. Wade, abortion services are legalized until the point of viability, which is typically around 24 weeks.
Across the country, abortion opponents have been divided on heartbeat bills, which have failed to advance in states like Ohio, Alabama, and Kansas because Republican lawmakers won’t always agree to support them. In general, the anti-choice community hasn’t agreed on a consistent strategy to end abortion — it’s divided over whether it’s better to gradually chip away at Roe v. Wade by passing indirect measures to make it harder to get an abortion, or whether it’s necessary to take a bold stance to ban nearly all abortions.
This past year, Michigan made national headlines for some of its other attacks on abortion rights. In March, a controversial new state law took effect that will ban women from using their insurance coverage for abortion services, requiring them to purchase a separate rider if they don’t want to pay for the total cost of an abortion out of pocket — even in cases when they’ve gotten pregnant from rape or incest. The law was widely derided as “rape insurance.”
One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. The tale goes something like this: Evangelicals, who had been politically quiescent for decades, were so morally outraged by Roe that they resolved to organize in order to overturn it.
This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wade story,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.
Some of these anti-Roe crusaders even went so far as to call themselves “new abolitionists,” invoking their antebellum predecessors who had fought to eradicate slavery.
But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.
Today, evangelicals make up the backbone of the pro-life movement, but it hasn’t always been so. Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society andChristianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.
When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
Although a few evangelical voices, including Christianity Today magazine, mildly criticized the ruling, the overwhelming response was silence, even approval. Baptists, in particular, applauded the decision as an appropriate articulation of the division between church and state, between personal morality and state regulation of individual behavior. “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” wrote W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press.
So what then were the real origins of the religious right? It turns out that the movement can trace its political roots back to a court ruling, but not Roe v. Wade.
In May 1969, a group of African-American parents in Holmes County, Mississippi, sued the Treasury Department to prevent three new whites-only K-12 private academies from securing full tax-exempt status, arguing that their discriminatory policies prevented them from being considered “charitable” institutions. The schools had been founded in the mid-1960s in response to the desegregation of public schools set in motion by the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. In 1969, the first year of desegregation, the number of white students enrolled in public schools in Holmes County dropped from 771 to 28; the following year, that number fell to zero.
In Green v. Kennedy (David Kennedy was secretary of the treasury at the time), decided in January 1970, the plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction, which denied the “segregation academies” tax-exempt status until further review. In the meantime, the government was solidifying its position on such schools. Later that year, President Richard Nixon ordered the Internal Revenue Service to enact a new policy denying tax exemptions to all segregated schools in the United States. Under the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which forbade racial segregation and discrimination, discriminatory schools were not—by definition—“charitable” educational organizations, and therefore they had no claims to tax-exempt status; similarly, donations to such organizations would no longer qualify as tax-deductible contributions.
On June 30, 1971, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued its ruling in the case, now Green v. Connally (John Connally had replaced David Kennedy as secretary of the Treasury). The decision upheld the new IRS policy: “Under the Internal Revenue Code, properly construed, racially discriminatory private schools are not entitled to the Federal tax exemption provided for charitable, educational institutions, and persons making gifts to such schools are not entitled to the deductions provided in case of gifts to charitable, educational institutions.”
Paul Weyrich, the late religious conservative political activist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, saw his opening.
In the decades following World War II, evangelicals, especially white evangelicals in the North, had drifted toward the Republican Party—inclined in that direction by general Cold War anxieties, vestigial suspicions of Catholicism and well-known evangelist Billy Graham’s very public friendship with Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Despite these predilections, though, evangelicals had largely stayed out of the political arena, at least in any organized way. If he could change that, Weyrich reasoned, their large numbers would constitute a formidable voting bloc—one that he could easily marshal behind conservative causes.
“The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,” Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Weyrich believed that the political possibilities of such a coalition were unlimited. “The leadership, moral philosophy, and workable vehicle are at hand just waiting to be blended and activated,” he wrote. “If the moral majority acts, results could well exceed our wildest dreams.”
But this hypothetical “moral majority” needed a catalyst—a standard around which to rally. For nearly two decades, Weyrich, by his own account, had been trying out different issues, hoping one might pique evangelical interest: pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion. “I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled at a conference in 1990.
The Green v. Connally ruling provided a necessary first step: It captured the attention of evangelical leaders, especially as the IRS began sending questionnaires to church-related “segregation academies,” including Falwell’s own Lynchburg Christian School, inquiring about their racial policies. Falwell was furious. “In some states,” he famously complained, “It’s easier to open a massage parlor than a Christian school.”
One such school, Bob Jones University—a fundamentalist college in Greenville, South Carolina—was especially obdurate. The IRS had sent its first letter to Bob Jones University in November 1970 to ascertain whether or not it discriminated on the basis of race. The school responded defiantly: It did not admit African Americans.
Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation. For decades, evangelical leaders had boasted that because their educational institutions accepted no federal money (except for, of course, not having to pay taxes) the government could not tell them how to run their shops—whom to hire or not, whom to admit or reject. The Civil Rights Act, however, changed that calculus.
Bob Jones University did, in fact, try to placate the IRS—in its own way. Following initial inquiries into the school’s racial policies, Bob Jones admitted one African-American, a worker in its radio station, as a part-time student; he dropped out a month later. In 1975, again in an attempt to forestall IRS action, the school admitted blacks to the student body, but, out of fears of miscegenation, refused to admit unmarried African-Americans. The school also stipulated that any students who engaged in interracial dating, or who were even associated with organizations that advocated interracial dating, would be expelled.
The IRS was not placated. On January 19, 1976, after years of warnings—integrate or pay taxes—the agency rescinded the school’s tax exemption.
For many evangelical leaders, who had been following the issue since Green v. Connally, Bob Jones University was the final straw. As Elmer L. Rumminger, longtime administrator at Bob Jones University, told me in an interview, the IRS actions against his school “alerted the Christian school community about what could happen with government interference” in the affairs of evangelical institutions. “That was really the major issue that got us all involved.”
Weyrich saw that he had the beginnings of a conservative political movement, which is why, several years into President Jimmy Carter’s term, he and other leaders of the nascent religious right blamed the Democratic president for the IRS actions against segregated schools—even though the policy was mandated by Nixon, and Bob Jones University had lost its tax exemption a year and a day before Carter was inaugurated as president. Falwell, Weyrich and others were undeterred by the niceties of facts. In their determination to elect a conservative, they would do anything to deny a Democrat, even a fellow evangelical like Carter, another term in the White House.
But Falwell and Weyrich, having tapped into the ire of evangelical leaders, were also savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would be a challenge. It had worked to rally the leaders, but they needed a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale.
By the late 1970s, many Americans—not just Roman Catholics—were beginning to feel uneasy about the spike in legal abortions following the 1973 Roe decision. The 1978 Senate races demonstrated to Weyrich and others that abortion might motivate conservatives where it hadn’t in the past. That year in Minnesota, pro-life Republicans captured both Senate seats (one for the unexpired term of Hubert Humphrey) as well as the governor’s mansion. In Iowa, Sen. Dick Clark, the Democratic incumbent, was thought to be a shoo-in: Every poll heading into the election showed him ahead by at least 10 percentage points. On the final weekend of the campaign, however, pro-life activists, primarily Roman Catholics, leafleted church parking lots (as they did in Minnesota), and on Election Day Clark lost to his Republican pro-life challenger.
In the course of my research into Falwell’s archives at Liberty University and Weyrich’s papers at the University of Wyoming, it became very clear that the 1978 election represented a formative step toward galvanizing everyday evangelical voters. Correspondence between Weyrich and evangelical leaders fairly crackles with excitement. In a letter to fellow conservative Daniel B. Hales, Weyrich characterized the triumph of pro-life candidates as “true cause for celebration,” and Robert Billings, a cobelligerent, predicted that opposition to abortion would “pull together many of our ‘fringe’ Christian friends.” Roe v. Wade had been law for more than five years.
Weyrich, Falwell and leaders of the emerging religious right enlisted an unlikely ally in their quest to advance abortion as a political issue: Francis A. Schaeffer—a goateed, knickers-wearing theologian who was warning about the eclipse of Christian values and the advance of something he called “secular humanism.” Schaeffer, considered by many the intellectual godfather of the religious right, was not known for his political activism, but by the late 1970s he decided that legalized abortion would lead inevitably to infanticide and euthanasia, and he was eager to sound the alarm. Schaeffer teamed with a pediatric surgeon, C. Everett Koop, to produce a series of films entitled Whatever Happened to the Human Race? In the early months of 1979, Schaeffer and Koop, targeting an evangelical audience, toured the country with these films, which depicted the scourge of abortion in graphic terms—most memorably with a scene of plastic baby dolls strewn along the shores of the Dead Sea. Schaeffer and Koop argued that any society that countenanced abortion was captive to “secular humanism” and therefore caught in a vortex of moral decay.
Between Weyrich’s machinations and Schaeffer’s jeremiad, evangelicals were slowly coming around on the abortion issue. At the conclusion of the film tour in March 1979, Schaeffer reported that Protestants, especially evangelicals, “have been so sluggish on this issue of human life, and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? is causing real waves, among church people and governmental people too.”
By 1980, even though Carter had sought, both as governor of Georgia and as president, to reduce the incidence of abortion, his refusal to seek a constitutional amendment outlawing it was viewed by politically conservative evangelicals as an unpardonable sin. Never mind the fact that his Republican opponent that year, Ronald Reagan, had signed into law, as governor of California in 1967, the most liberal abortion bill in the country. When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion. Nevertheless, leaders of the religious right hammered away at the issue, persuading many evangelicals to make support for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion a litmus test for their votes.
Carter lost the 1980 election for a variety of reasons, not merely the opposition of the religious right. He faced a spirited challenge from within his own party; Edward M. Kennedy’s failed quest for the Democratic nomination undermined Carter’s support among liberals. And because Election Day fell on the anniversary of the Iran Hostage Crisis, the media played up the story, highlighting Carter’s inability to secure the hostages’ freedom. The electorate, once enamored of Carter’s evangelical probity, had tired of a sour economy, chronic energy shortages and the Soviet Union’s renewed imperial ambitions.
After the election results came in, Falwell, never shy to claim credit, was fond of quoting a Harris poll that suggested Carter would have won the popular vote by a margin of 1 percent had it not been for the machinations of the religious right. “I knew that we would have some impact on the national elections,” Falwell said, “but I had no idea that it would be this great.”
Given Carter’s political troubles, the defection of evangelicals may or may not have been decisive. But it is certainly true that evangelicals, having helped propel Carter to the White House four years earlier, turned dramatically against him, their fellow evangelical, during the course of his presidency. And the catalyst for their political activism was not, as often claimed, opposition to abortion. Although abortion had emerged as a rallying cry by 1980, the real roots of the religious right lie not the defense of a fetus but in the defense of racial segregation.
The Bob Jones University case merits a postscript. When the school’s appeal finally reached the Supreme Court in 1982, the Reagan administration announced that it planned to argue in defense of Bob Jones University and its racial policies. A public outcry forced the administration to reconsider; Reagan backpedaled by saying that the legislature should determine such matters, not the courts. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case, handed down on May 24, 1983, ruled against Bob Jones University in an 8-to-1 decision. Three years later Reagan elevated the sole dissenter, William Rehnquist, to chief justice of the Supreme Court.
I personally consider the beginnings of the modern-day Religious Right in the USA were founded around the time that Engel v. Vitale was being decided by SCOTUS in 1962. In the 1970’s, Roe v. Wade, Ronald Reagan, Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell, and backlash against LGBTQ acceptance led by Anita Bryant were the main causes of the catapulting the Religious Right into a potent political force.
For months, the state has been quietly laying the groundwork to shutter clinics — and it’s poised to accomplish that goal.
The Lone Star State, which now contains a 400-mile swath without a single abortion provider, has become somewhat of a symbol for what happens when harsh state laws force reproductive health clinics out of business. But Texas is hardly the only state that’s successfully advancing this type of anti-choice agenda. In Louisiana, for instance, lawmakers have been quietly laying the groundwork to shutter clinics for the past several months — and they’re currently poised to accomplish that goal.
The latest installment of this saga involves Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who is currently pushing for a state investigation into Baton Rogue’s only abortion clinic, alleging that it violated federal privacy laws. On Tuesday, Vitter sent a letter to the state’s health department along these lines. Even though the letter doesn’t contain any specific allegations, it asks the department to “impose serious consequences” on the clinic if the accusations are proven true.
Reproductive rights advocates are questioning the timing of Vitter’s concerns. On Wednesday, state lawmakers are scheduled to hear House Bill 388, a measure that’s directly modeled after the new abortion restrictions in Texas. Vitter’s letter, which was released just one day before the final vote, may be intended to influence state lawmakers by reinforcing the myth that reproductive health facilities need tighter regulations.
“It seems like very suspicious timing that David Vitter would release information about an investigation the day before the House hears the bill for final passage,” Ellie Schilling, the lawyer who represents Louisiana’s abortion clinics, told the Times-Picayune. “I’m not really sure why David Vitter is involving himself in this.”
HB 388 would require the abortion providers in the state to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital, a medically unnecessary requirement that’s often impossible for clinics to comply with. It will likely force the majority of Louisiana’s five clinics to close.
This type of legislation is known as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP. It’s an indirect method of restricting women’s access to abortion by making it too complicated and costly for clinics to remain operating. In reality, abortion clinics are alreadyhighly regulated and extremely safe. But conservatives’ rhetoric around “women’s health and safety” has helped advance TRAP laws across the country anyway.
And in Louisiana, abortion opponents have furthered this framework through several different means. At the beginning of this year, the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals attempted to regulate abortion clinics out of existence by imposing complicated and burdensome new rules on abortion providers with little public notice. Those rules were eventually rescinded after a massive outcry. But it’s not hard to see why HB 388, which essentially seeks to accomplish the same goal, has been able to advance so easily this session. The state is all too eager to follow in Texas’ footsteps.
In addition to the admitting privilege requirement, HB 388 includes several other problematic provisions that would limit women’s access to reproductive health care. It would impose a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for surgical abortion procedures. It would also limit the number of abortions that private doctors are allowed to perform before they’re officially considered to be an “abortion provider” — an obscure policy change that could actually have huge implications for women’s access to the procedure, as the number of clinics dwindles and women increasingly turn to private physicians for first-trimester abortions.
Ultimately, these type of restrictions on the medical procedure end up having a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable women, who already struggle to afford the cost of an abortion. Even though Roe v. Wade is still technically the law of the land, an increasing number of harsh state laws ensure that women’s ability to exercise their reproductive rights depend mainly on her bank account and her zip code.
“The New Orleans Abortion Fund is outraged by this bill, which will push women and their families further into poverty,” Amy Irving, a founding board member of the organization, which provides financial assistance to low-income individuals who need to end a pregnancy, told ThinkProgress. “Louisiana lawmakers continue to pass laws that erode our communities’ social safety net and demonstrate that they do not trust women to make decisions about their healthcare and abortion, in particular. This bill will penalize low income women, especially.”
In a previous interview with ThinkProgress, Irving said she’s noticed an uptick in the number of New Orleans women resorting to potentially dangerous methods of ending a pregnancy, like buying abortion-inducing drugs on the black market, as they lose access to legal clinics. That dynamic is already unfolding in Texas in the aftermath of its recent clinic closures, and there’s no reason to think the trend won’t continue in Louisiana if the state passes a similar law.
If Louisiana lawmakers approve HB 388, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is expected to immediately sign it into law. When it was first introduced, the governor’s office released a statement praising the legislation, saying “these reforms will build upon the work Governor Jindal has done to make Louisiana the most pro-life state in the nation.”
Source: Tara Culp-Ressler for ThinkProgress
Texas GOP candidate Dan Patrick: It’s a ‘myth’ that Planned Parenthood does ‘anything’ for women’s health
Dan Patrick, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Texas, argued this week that the reason Planned Parenthood clinics were being forced to close throughout the state was because they did not have “anything” to do with women’s health…
YES, THERE IS ONE TOO RADICAL FOR THE GOP: The Abortion Restriction That’s Too Radical For Republicans
So-called “fetal heartbeat bills,” a radical proposal to cut off legal abortion services at just six weeks, are failing in states across the country.
Over the past several years, state legislatures have enacted a record-breaking number of abortion restrictions. That pace hasn’t abated during this year’s legislative sessions, as lawmakers are rushing to pass measures to shut down abortion clinics and create additional red tape for women seeking abortions. But even though the assault on reproductive rights has been steadily gaining ground, there’s one type of restriction that hasn’t been able to win enough support, even among some anti-choice Republicans.
So-called “fetal heartbeat bills,” a radical proposal to cut off legal abortion services at just six weeks — before many women even realize they’re pregnant — are failing in states across the country. Although the far-right abortion opponents who push six-week bans claim that the procedure should be outlawed after a fetal heartbeat can first be detected, they can’t always get their other colleagues to sign onto the effort.
Last year, North Dakota and Alabama became the first states in the country to pass abortion restrictions banning the procedure after the detection of fetal heartbeat (although Arkansas’ ended up being amended to a 12-week ban). Perhaps observing that those two laws have both been blocked from taking effect because they blatantly violate Roe v. Wade, at least five state legislatures have declined to advance fetal heartbeat bans so far this year:
ALABAMA: Lawmakers in Alabama introduced a package of several anti-abortion restrictions, including a six-week abortion ban, on the same day in February. The legislature rushed to approve two of those measures before the state’s session came to a close this week, but the Senate didn’t take up the heartbeat ban. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R) said he’s waiting to see how the legal challenges to six-week bans in other states before Alabama passes its own version “and spends dollars we don’t have as a state.” The lawmaker who introduced the bill said she’s “very, very disappointed” that the legislature “didn’t have the fortitude” to approve it anyway.
MISSISSIPPI: Mississippi has been trying and failing to enact a heartbeat ban for several years in a row. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) has already indicated that he’s eager to sign one. “It would tell that mother, ‘Your child has a heartbeat,’” he told supporters at an anti-abortion event last year. But so far, this bill has repeatedly failed to make it out of committee. The state recently passed a 20-week abortion ban, but the heartbeat bill — which would have banned abortion at 12 weeks, like the one in Arkansas — remains a step too far.
KANSAS: Top Republican lawmakers in Kansas have decided to block a six-week abortion ban this year because they’re not interested in provoking a legal fight. Even though the legislature has strong GOP majorities, the politicians there are taking their cues from Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-choice group in the state. Kansans for Life doesn’t support the proposed fetal heartbeat ban because they’re nervous that a court battle would end up striking it down. “We’re just being cautious,” House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey (R) explained when asked why the legislature hasn’t scheduled a vote on the measure.
KENTUCKY: A fetal heartbeat measure was introduced again in Kentucky this session, after failing to advance last year, but abortion opponents haven’t had much luck this time around either. The measure is currently stalled in committee with little chance of passing. Pro-choice Kentucky lawmakers have been able to successfully block proposed abortion restrictions for several years in a row, so there’s little chance that a radical six-week abortion ban will make it through.
OHIO: Republicans in Ohio have long been divided over whether to adopt an aggressive anti-abortion strategy, and attempt to enact a harsh fetal heartbeat ban, or take a more subtle and incremental approach to chipping away at reproductive rights. This split has prevented the state from approving a six-week ban for the past several years, although it continues to be re-introduced. Senate President Keith Faber (R) says he won’t schedule a vote on the measure this session because he’s worried it will trigger a court challenge.
Indeed, legal battles over unconstitutional abortion restrictions come with a cost. North Dakota is gearing up to spend at least $600,000 to defend its stringent anti-abortion laws in court, while Kansas and Idaho have both accumulated legal fees in this area that top one million dollars.
In general, abortion opponents haven’t decided whether it’s better to continue gradually chipping away Roe v. Wade piece by piece, or whether it’s necessary to take a bold stance to ban nearly all abortions. So far, feuds over this divide are bubbling to the surface in political races in Georgia and Kentucky. And some Republicans will need to adopt a particularly hardline stance against abortion if they want to court support from thecountry’s major anti-choice groups before the upcoming presidential primaries.
But so far, anti-choice lawmakers have actually had more success with the first, incremental strategy. That’s largely because radical restrictions like six-week bans, which are obviously extreme on their face, tend to capture headlines and spark outrage — while more subtle efforts to undermine abortion rights are able to slip under the radar.
But simply being hostile to abortion is no longer good enough for GRTL. Unlike many of the National Right to Life affiliates across the country, GRTL has been a vocal proponent for complete abortion bans with no exceptions, not even in cases of rape, incest of a pregnant person’s health being in jeopardy. Their website openly and passionately advocates for a “Personhood” amendment, which would ban almost all forms of birth control. Many of the National Right to Life affiliates across the country, by contrast, argue against such a policy, fearing that an aggressive, highly unconstitutional ban on abortion and potentially hormonal birth control could backfire and reaffirm the right to an abortion codified in Roe v. Wade.
These deviations from the National Right to Life’s playbook that has given an opening to a new anti-abortion group. So far, Georgia Life Alliance is little more than a web landing page and an email sign up, but its goal is to be the new Georgia affiliate for National Right to Life, leaving GRTL out on its own.
That GRTL has angered its national umbrella is undeniable. GRTL fought against the mothership this summer when it argued that a politician who refused to vote in favor of the federal 20-week abortion ban because it had exceptions for rape victims was actually more pro-life than those who voted for the ban. The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) considered the ban a must-pass vote. GRTL continues to balk at the idea of the incremental strategies to overturn Roe championed by major anti-abortion policy groups like NRLC and Americans United for Life, instead advocating for all-out bans or nothing.
The arrival of a new anti-abortion advocacy group is a clear signal that it’s time for GRTL to conform to the rest of the National Right to Life team talking points, or go independent. If GRTL does so, it won’t be the first “pro-life” group to lose its NRLC affiliation. Cleveland Right to Life was cut off in 2013 after it decided to go rogue and join the fight against in the gay marriage, and was told to remove any claims from its website stating that it was affiliated with the National Right to Life organization. Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati was also ousted when it decided to back “personhood” a few years earlier. Still, neither were as big as a statewide affiliate like GRTL. Losing Right to Life affiliation to another anti-abortion organization, especially a start up, would be particularly mortifying.
Mortifying or not, if Georgia Life Alliance does end up offering the slightly more moderate stances, like supporting the incremental change to abortion law that makes the national anti-abortion movement content, that could leave GRTL sitting alone as the fringe. If that happens, it would leave the state looking very similar to a number of other states across the country that have their anti-abortion policy groups divided into “mainstream” and “totally extreme.” When that happens, there tends to be a lot of fighting between the two as both groups struggle over who gets to make policy for the state.
Invariably, the biggest schism between the organizations will be over what type of abortion ban should be introduced at the state level. In Ohio, the more extremist Faith2Action not only bucked the state Right to Life affiliate by urging lawmakers to continually reintroduce a ban on abortions at the point in which a heartbeat can be discerned (in many cases at less than 2 weeks after a missed period), but actively targets pro-life Republicans who won’t support their efforts. It’s a battle that has been going on since 2011, when Ohio Right to Life was instrumental in blocking the heartbeat ban, concerned that a blatantly unconstitutional abortion ban would hamper their efforts to pass other bans that were just mildly unconstitutional, like a 20-week abortion ban.
Wisconsin, too, has developed the same infighting between its own anti-abortion organizations. Last summer Wisconsin Right to Life chastised its own ally, Pro-Life Wisconsin, for pushing ahead on a personhood measure of its own, which Wisconsin Right to Life ridiculed as so extreme that it was never going to become law.
“I don’t want to talk about the personhood amendment anymore. I’m done talking about the personhood amendment,” Sue Armacost, the legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life, toldTime Magazine. “This particular measure might sound good from a pro-life perspective, but it’s not going to save one single life.”
The biggest concern that Wisconsin Right to Life expressed over pushing for “personhood” was the potential money that would be wasted on a court battle, funding that could be better spent within the movement.
In fact, multiple states have these jockeying anti-abortion groups, and the conflict between the moderate and extreme sides of the anti-choice movement comes to a head primarily when it comes time for candidate endorsements. It’s in this arena where we are now starting to see whether it is the moderates or the extremists who hold the real power.
The 2012 election appears to have been a shifting point for anti-abortion extremism when it comes at least to statewide candidates, as we saw Republican politicians like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin lose what should have been easy Senate pickups — due in part to their unwavering belief that abortion must be absolutely banned without exception.
Now, politicians are learning their lesson. “personhood” may be a perennial ballot issue in Colorado, but it has also failed every time it has been introduced, and Republican senate candidate Congressman Cory Gardner appears to have finally taken a lesson from that fact. Asked now if he still supports giving legal rights to fertilized eggs, Gardner has said, “I can’t support personhood now.”
Even in local races in Colorado, the bloom is coming off the extremist anti-choice rose. When a lone GOP candidate for a local house seat was asked where he stood on abortion during his party nomination meeting, he responded “100 percent opposed.”
Rather than lauded, he was chastised by potential voters who said they would vote for a Democrat instead, one of whom yelled “This is exactly why Republicans are losing elections.”
Anti-abortion policy groups like National Right to Life and Americans United for Life have spent decades developing an intricate blueprint to push just the right abortion restrictions through just the right states in just the right order so that they can create the circuit splits and favorable court rulings necessary to maneuver a favorable case in front of the Supreme Court. With the massive explosion in anti-abortion bills passing state legislatures since 2010, they are almost there, and can see their goal of overturning of Roe within their grasp.
However, that same success on the ground that has put those restrictions in place has also emboldened their own extremists, who demand they move faster. Turning the legality of abortion back to each state isn’t good enough, and they are refusing to be placated with anything less than complete legal protection from the moment of conception. The more successful these policy groups are at passing laws, the bigger this battle will become. Georgia is just the latest state to prove that the biggest threat to the anti-abortion movement is anti-abortion activists themselves.
This is a new flashpoint in the battle against abortion rights. Draconian v. ultra-draconian.
This is what the anti-choice community doesn’t want you to know about the “fetal pain” movement.
Abortion opponents are confident that they’ve found a winning strategy in 20-week bans. In January, at the Republican National Committee’s annual meeting, the group approved a new “pro-life resolution” encouraging GOP candidates to speak out against abortion rights. That resolution cited 20-week bans as one restriction that’s politically advantageous for Republicans, since it tends to poll better with the American public.
By some measures, they’re right. This policy — often construed as a “fetal pain ban,” since it’s based on the scientifically inaccurate claim that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks of pregnancy — is picking up steam on a legislative level. Ten states already have 20-week bans on the books, and several lawmakers introduced new fetal pain bills at the beginning of this year. This past weekend, West Virginia became the first Democratic-controlled state to pass a 20-week ban, and it’s not yet clear whether the state’s Democratic governor is going to block it. Abortion opponents are now able to claim that this is an issue with bipartisan support.
The push to cut off access to later abortion services has always relied on framing 20-week bans as moderate and popular. This has been working really well for the anti-choice community, which is able to capitalize on emotional outrage about “fetal pain” and come across as entirely willing to compromise. Lila Rose, the president of the right-wing group Live Action, often points out that 20 is exactly half of a full-term 40 week pregnancy, so it’s a perfect middle ground.
But don’t be fooled. The political momentum for 20-week bans isn’t actually about compromising, or about adhering to a specific deadline that will prevent fetuses from feeling pain. It’s really about finding an initial foothold to chip away at Roe v. Wade, and then continuing to move the goal posts. It’s the first step in a larger strategy to cut off legal abortion access altogether, cloaked under the guise of a “moderate” policy.
For evidence, look no further than what’s currently going on in Mississippi. Lawmakers there are trying to pass a 20-week ban — but this week, they made a last-minute change that actually transforms the bill into an 18-week ban.
Lawmakers moved up the cut-off point by using a new way to define pregnancy. Abortion restrictions typically calculate gestational age beginning when a fertilized egg implants on the uterine wall, which is the medical and scientific definition of pregnancy. Mississippi’s new bill chooses to start counting from the end of the woman’s last menstrual period. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory. But in the context of an abortion ban, that ends up shaving off about two weeks from the legally acceptable window to terminate a pregnancy.
“It goes far beyond similar legislation in neighboring states,” Felicia Brown-Williams, the director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said in a statement regarding Mississippi’s proposed ban. “Legislators should stop wasting taxpayer time and money by pushing bills that could easily end in litigation.”
Mississippi is modeling the new legislation after a similar law in Arizona, which is the only state so far that’s passed a fetal pain ban outlawing abortion two weeks earlier than usual. Last May, Arizona’s restrictive ban was permanently struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for overstepping the legal protections in Roe v. Wade. And at the beginning of this year, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that decision by refusing to review the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. The lawmakers in Mississippi are likely counting on the fact that their state is under the jurisdiction of a much more conservative circuit court, which recently upheld an extremely restrictive abortion law in Texas that’s forcing dozens of clinics to close.
So why does all of this matter, and what does it say about the larger strategy behind later abortion bans? It proves that the states enacting 20-week bans aren’t really interested in a good faith effort to accomplish what they claim they care about, which is preventing women from exercising their abortion rights after a specific point that “causes pain” to their fetus. In fact, there’s no good policy justification for this type of restriction at all.
First of all, the arbitrary cut-off clearly doesn’t matter to abortion opponents — since there’sno real scientific evidence to support the notion of fetal pain at 20 weeks, sneaking in an 18-week ban under the same specious logic is even better. On top of that, it’s important to remember that cutting off later abortion access doesn’t even have a real impact on abortion opponents’ stated goal of lowering the abortion rate. Abortions after 20 weeks are already extremely rare, representing just 1.5 percent of all abortions nationwide. This is especially stark in Mississippi, since the state’s sole abortion clinic doesn’t even perform abortions after 16 weeks in the first place — this is essentially a meaningless ban.
But addressing a real issue or having a real impact isn’t the point. Instead, this policy simply allows Republicans to have a convenient talking point to make the case that Americans support limiting abortion rights. Unfortunately, that often comes at the expense of targeting women who are making heartbreaking decisions about a pregnancy that’s gone terribly wrong. A “fetal pain ban” or a “late-term abortion ban” is a politically popular way of defining a policy that can force women to carry doomed pregnancies to term.
Amanda Allen, the state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights — one of the groups that successfully litigated against Arizona’s ban — told ThinkProgress that all fetal pain bans are “as cruel as they are unconstitutional.” That’s because they typically have very narrow medical exceptions that prevent women from terminating a pregnancy even after they’ve discovered serious health issues.
“When states try to ban abortion earlier in pregnancy, they’re really banning it before the time that women can receive critical prenatal care,” Allen pointed out. “Now that it looks like Mississippi is following in Arizona’s footsteps with this bill, lawmakers have added all these bogus findings about why this legislation is necessary for women’s health. But of course, it’s actually directly the opposite — it could force women to continue their pregnancies until a potential health issue becomes life-threatening.”
But lawmakers typically aren’t persuaded by that point. Indeed, when Arizona was arguing in favor of its restrictive ban, lawyers tried to make the case that fatal fetal birth defects are simply the “woman’s problem.”
The American people, on the other hand, actually are sympathetic to the emotional context about later abortion care. When voters realize why women may need a later abortion, they oppose cutting off access to that type of reproductive health care. This has been put to the test. Last year, when abortion opponents put a proposed 20-week ban up for a popular vote in Albuquerque, voters resoundingly rejected it for exactly this reason.
Nonetheless, this incremental strategy to undermine Roe continues to be extremely successful in state legislatures across the country. Anti-choice politicians aren’t showing any signs of stopping the onslaught of 20-week abortion bills.
“We’re continuing to see these relentless attacks from politicians. Right now, I’m tracking 12 different 20-week bans that have either been introduced this year or carried over from last session, and three of those are moving,” Allen noted. “I think we need to ask why lawmakers are so insistent on spending their time passing unconstitutional bills when states like Mississippi have some of the highest rates of child poverty and women living in poverty.”
Source: Tara Culp-Ressler for ThinkProgress
On Tuesday evening, the Alabama House of Representatives approved four abortion restrictions that threaten to cut off women’s access to reproductive health care in the state. Taken together, the package of anti-choice measures represents some of the harshest legislation in the nation.
The most controversial of the four measures would ban abortion after just six weeks. This type of law is known as a “heartbeat ban” because it outlaws abortion services after a fetal heartbeat can first be detected — even though that occurs before many women even realize they’re pregnant. North Dakota passed the country’s first six-week ban last year, but it’s currently blocked from taking effect for violating women’s right to choose.
But the Alabama legislature isn’t concerned about provoking a similar court challenge for overstepping Roe v. Wade. The lawmaker who’s spearheading the six-week ban, Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin (R), has repeatedly likened her quest to ban abortion to the civil rights movement’s push to integrate public schools.
“This one would make it such that they would realize there’s a life, if there’s a heartbeat, there’s a life they’re killing,” McClurkin, who’s considered to be the “queen of pro-life legislation,” said on Tuesday.
In addition to the heartbeat ban, Alabama lawmakers also voted to advance separate bills that would extend the state’s abortion waiting period from 28 hours to 48 hours; make it more difficult for a minor to obtain an abortion; and require women choosing to end a nonviable pregnancy to receive more information about hospice centers that can care for their infant before it succumbs to its fatal conditions. Alabama does not currently have any of these hospice centers within its state borders, so this particular bill would force doctors to give grieving women more information about services that aren’t particularly helpful to them.
Hayley Smith, the associate advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told ThinkProgress that the state’s latest assault on abortion rights is “moving at an alarmingly fast pace.” These bills are headed to a full vote in Alabama’s Senate less than three weeks after they were first introduced. Although the separate measures were proposed by different Republican lawmakers, Smith and her colleagues see them as part of a larger coordinated strategy.
“These four bills were introduced together on the same day, heard in committee on the same day, and they all passed out of committee together. The intent is clear. As a package, they’re clearly intended to block access to abortion in Alabama,” she explained. “We’re extremely concerned about all of them.”
While more Americans support upholding ‘Roe v. Wade’ than ever, the Tea Party and the Christian right have teamed up to pass hundreds of restrictions eviscerating abortion rights in GOP-controlled state legislatures across the country.
n the morning of December 11th, Gretchen Whitmer, the charismatic 42-year-old minority leader of the Michigan Senate, stood before her colleagues in the Statehouse in Lansing, and told them something she’d told almost no one before. “Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape,” she said. “And thank God it didn’t result in a pregnancy, because I can’t imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker.”
No one in the gallery said a word. Instead, with just hours to go before it broke for Christmas recess, Michigan’s overwhelmingly male, Republican-dominated Legislature, having held no hearings nor even a substantive debate, voted to pass one of the most punishing pieces of anti-abortion legislation anywhere in the country: the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act, which would ban abortion coverage, even in cases of rape or incest, from virtually every health-insurance policy issued in the state. Women and their employers wanting this coverage will instead have to purchase a separate rider – often described as “rape insurance.” Whitmer, a Democrat known as a fierce advocate for women’s issues, described the new law as “by far one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve seen in the Michigan Legislature.”
And it’s not just Michigan. Eight other states now have laws preventing abortion coverage under comprehensive private insurance plans – only one of them, Utah, makes an exception for rape. And 24 states, including such traditionally blue states as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, ban some forms of abortion coverage from policies purchased through the new health exchanges. While cutting insurance coverage of abortion in disparate states might seem to be a separate issue from the larger assault on reproductive rights, it is in fact part of a highly coordinated and so far chillingly successful nationwide campaign, often funded by the same people who fund the Tea Party, to make it harder and harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and also to limit their access to many forms of contraception.
All this legislative activity comes at a time when overall support for abortion rights in the United States has never been higher – in 2013, seven in 10 Americans said they supported upholding Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. But polls also show that more than half the country is open to placing some restrictions on abortion: Instead of trying to overturn Roe, which both sides see as politically unviable, they have been working instead to chip away at reproductive rights in a way that will render Roe’s protections virtually irrelevant.
Since 2010, when the Tea Party-fueled GOP seized control of 11 state legislatures – bringing the total number of Republican-controlled states to 26 – conservative lawmakers in 30 states have passed 205 anti-abortion restrictions, more than in the previous decade. “What you’re seeing is an underhanded strategy to essentially do by the back door what they can’t do through the front,” says Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is currently litigating against some of the new anti-choice laws. “The politicians and organizations advancing these policies know they can’t come right out and say they’re trying to effectively outlaw abortion, so instead, they come up with laws that are unnecessary, technical and hard to follow, which too often force clinics to close. Things have reached a very dangerous place.”
Last June, the right’s stealth attack on abortion rights became front-page news, when, in an attempt to block a vote on a sweeping omnibus bill that included 20 pages of anti-abortion legislation, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis embarked on an 11-hour-plus filibuster in the Texas Statehouse. Wearing rouge-red Mizuno running shoes and an elegant string of pearls, the blond, blue-eyed Davis, a onetime single mother and a graduate of Harvard Law School, became an overnight symbol of what, in many states, is a growing popular resistance to the conservative anti-choice agenda. But Davis’ filibuster failed to prevent the Texas Legislature from holding a special session in July to pass the bill, despite widespread public opposition.
This was the latest failed battle to protect reproductive rights in a state that in the past few years has passed some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the country. Thanks to the cumulative impact of Texas law, a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy must receive pre-abortion counseling to advise her of the supposed physical and emotional health risks, undergo an ultrasound and view an image of her fetus as well as hear it described by her doctor, and then, in most cases, wait another 24 hours before having the procedure. This assumes she can even find a clinic to go to. Women’s-health centers have been shutting their doors all over the Lone Star State since 2011, when, in a specific attempt to defund Planned Parenthood – which operated only a portion of the state’s women’s-health clinics – the Texas Legislature cut the funding to family-planning clinics by two-thirds, eliminating access to low-price contraception and other health services like breast exams and cancer screenings for more than 155,000 women. With the passage of the new restrictions last summer, a third of Texas’ remaining clinics announced they’d have to close or offer fewer services. If additional measures go into effect this September, it could mean potentially leaving just six clinics offering abortions in a state of 26 million people, all of them in urban areas, and none in the entire western half of the state.
Much of the public outrage in recent years has revolved around extreme measures, like proposed “personhood amendments” that would have outlawed abortion outright, and banned many common forms of birth control, stem-cell research and in-vitro fertilization. But the anti-abortion movement’s real success has been in passing seemingly innocuous regulations known as TRAP laws (“Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers”), which are designed to punish abortion providers by burying them in mountains of red tape, and, ultimately, driving them out of business.
Twenty-six states, including Texas, have laws on their books requiring that abortion clinics become mini surgical centers, a costly proposition that would require clinics to widen hallways, expand parking lots, modify janitorial closets or install surgical sinks and pipelines for general anesthesia – regulations most providers say are unnecessary. Four states currently (and four more may soon) require that the doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals, which applies even in places where the nearest hospitals oppose abortion or are simply too far away to meet the state’s distance requirement. Sixteen states restrict medication-induced abortion; in 39 states, only licensed physicians – not their physician’s assistants or nurse practitioners – are permitted to hand out the drug. Fourteen states ban its use via telemedicine, which is often the only way a woman in a rural part of the country can consult with her doctor.
"It’s a brilliant strategy to package these laws as just making sure abortion is ‘safe,’ [and] in many states, they’ve been able to sell it that way," says Eric Ferrero, VP of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. But abortion is already safe. The mortality rate for abortions is less than .67 per 100,000 procedures. By comparison, the mortality rate for colonoscopies, also commonly performed in outpatient clinics but not subject to similar restrictions, is about 20 out of 100,000.
This incremental approach to eviscerating abortion rights grew out of the recognition at the highest levels of the pro-life movement that their previous message – equating abortion with murder – and the accompanying extremist tactics weren’t working. “Twenty years ago, we’d storm a clinic and close it down for a day – and then I’d get thrown in jail,” says Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, the infamous Kansas-based anti-abortion group that made its name during the 1980s and early 1990s by blocking the entrances to clinics and holding noisy sit-ins – a practice Congress outlawed in 1994. Other tactics, which ranged from handing out pamphlets emblazoned with the image of aborted fetuses, to “naming and shaming” the friends and associates of abortion providers, proved equally unfruitful. “All of that just made the community angry – at me, at the clinic,” says Newman. “And I hated that. I don’t want to wave pictures on the street just to piss people off. I want to win.” So Newman stopped the overt harassment, and settled on a new plan to push for TRAP laws and document alleged abuses at abortion clinics and report them to the authorities. Today, there are only four clinics offering abortions in all of Kansas, which, like Michigan, has its own version of the “rape insurance” law, and has also imposed myriad other restrictions, including the criminalization of abortion after the fifth month of pregnancy. The so-called “20-week ban” violates one of Roe’s central provisions, that a woman has the right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside of the womb – roughly 24 weeks by today’s medical standards. Nonetheless, nine states currently impose the ban, basing it on a theory that is widely disputed by medical groups, that a fetus is able to feel pain at five months.
Polls have consistently shown that support for abortion after the first trimester drops precipitously – 64 percent of the country opposes it during the second trimester, and 80 percent opposes it during the third trimester. This has allowed pro-life groups to strike a note that might on the surface seem reasonable, and as Newman points out, “once you start enforcing a second-trimester ban, the camel’s nose is in the tent.” Arkansas has banned abortion after 12 weeks. North Dakota recently passed a law to criminalize abortion after six weeks, a point when many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant.
Two Washington-based advocacy groups, the National Right to Life Committee and Americans United for Life, are responsible for much of the model legislation restricting abortion, as well as for the grassroots organizing that’s been needed to pass it. Of the two, AUL, which describes itself as both the legal arm and “intellectual architect” of the movement, is chiefly responsible for the most recent and highly successful under-the-radar strategy.
"We don’t make frontal attacks," AUL president and CEO Charmaine Yoest told the National Catholic Registerin 2011. “Never attack where the enemy is strongest.” Some abortion-rights advocates have compared AUL to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the secretive corporate-funded organization responsible for many of the country’s voter-suppression and “Stand Your Ground” laws. Each year, AUL sends state and federal lawmakers across the country a 700-page-plus “pro-life playbook,”Defending Life, which it describes as “the definitive plan for countering a profit-centered and aggressive abortion industry, while laying the groundwork for the ultimate reversal of Roe.” Among its annual features is a 50-state “report card” on the state of anti-abortion legislation, as well as a step-by-step guide, Yoest says, to help lawmakers “understand thatRoe v. Wadedoesn’t preclude them from passing common-sense legislation.”
While “each state has a different scenario,” says Yoest, AUL’s central strategy is to make women – not the “unborn” – the focal point of its efforts. In the past few years, AUL has drafted numerous bills that claim to protect women, recently including them in a new package it has dubbed the “Women’s Protection Project.” Based on misleading facts and dubious medical information, the package is full of model legislation with names like the “Parental Involvement Enhancement Act” (which requires parental notification or consent for underage abortions), the “Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act” (imposes draconian regulations on abortion providers), the “Women’s Health Defense Act” (designed to protect women from the supposed physical and emotional health risks posed by later-term abortion) and the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” perhaps the most punishing measure in the package. To make it possible for a woman to give her “informed consent” before terminating a pregnancy, it requires that she view the fetus she is about to abort, justifying a mandatory ultrasound. “Forced ultrasounds tell a woman exactly what she already knows – that she’s pregnant,” says Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “These laws aren’t intended to provide new or useful information; they are intended to force more burden and shame on women who are simply exercising a constitutional right.”
In 2012, Arizona became the first state to pass a version of the Women’s Health Defense Act, one of 65 “life-affirming” laws that AUL claims credit for in the past three years. According to the ACLU, during the 2013 legislative session AUL worked in at least 27 states to, among other things, ban later-term abortion in North Dakota, further limit access to abortion care in Kansas, tighten regulations on parental-consent laws in Arkansas and Montana, and restrict access to medication abortion in Mississippi, a state where unnecessary regulation has already shut down all but one abortion clinic.
In Michigan, Amway scion Richard “Dick” DeVos, the 58-year-old former Republican candidate for governor, is a force behind what he refers to as the state’s “freedom to work” legislation, which passed in 2012 despite a 12,000-person protest that locked opponents out of the state Capitol. DeVos has also funded a variety of religious-right groups, including Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Family Forum, which supported the state’s “rape insurance” bill.
A similar scenario has played out in North Carolina, where millionaire Art Pope has single-handedly changed the face of state politics by pouring millions into state races since 2010, which gave Republicans control of the Legislature and also delivered the governor’s mansion to the GOP in 2012. Since then, North Carolina has enacted some of the nation’s harshest voter-suppression laws, as well as a sweeping package of TRAP laws that drew national attention last year, when lawmakers attempted to sneak it past the public’s scrutiny by first attaching it to a bill ostensibly banning Shariah law, and then attaching it to a bill regulating motorcycle safety. Despite weekly protests, the “motorcycle-vagina bill,” as abortion-rights advocates dubbed it, was passed and signed into law in July, threatening the state’s 16 abortion clinics.
Unlike DeVos, a longtime Christian conservative, Pope calls himself a libertarian and has served as a national director of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. Koch money, through various “social welfare” organizations it supports, has helped fund a significant part of the pro-life agenda, even though the Koch brothers, like Pope, have never taken a personal interest in reproductive politics, and David Koch has even stated his support for marriage equality. “They know the policies they want wouldn’t be attractive to enough people unless they also included the social-conservative policies, so what’s happened is they’ve merged the social and economic agenda into a single product,” says Rachel Tabachnick, an associate fellow at the progressive think tank Political Research Associates. “This is not new, it’s a project that goes back decades,” she says, “and it’s one in which the war on reproductive rights is a non-negotiable part of the deal.”
Connecting the fiscal and social agendas into a single, conservative “worldview” has been the goal of conservatives since the Reagan era. To outsiders, the Tea Party, with its focus on cutting taxes and spending, might seem to rule the party. But looks can be deceiving. Evangelicals, long outsiders in the GOP power structure, now hold large sway in the party through organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council. “I’d say it’s kind of baked into the cake,” Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said recently on MSNBC.
On yesterday’s “Faith and Freedom” radio broadcast, Matt Barber and Mat Staver rejoiced that recent polls show that the majority of Americans now consider themselves to be “pro-life” and encouraged politicians to “get on the winning side of history” and start passing legislation to outlaw abortion.
What anti-abortion activists always fail to mention whenever they trumpet this claim is that polls consistently show that the vast majority of Americans believe abortion should remain legal and available, with generally no more than 20% of the population wanting it to be outlawed entirely.
But for Barber and Staver, these polls demonstrate that legal abortion will soon become a thing of the past.
h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW
41 years of protecting every woman’s constitutional right to make her own personal health care decisions. And we won’t let politicians take that right away.
Happy birthday, Roe v. Wade.
Over the past year, the Republican Party has attempted to re-brand itself to appeal more to female voters. But at least some members of the party aren’t prepared to soften their rhetoric on women’s issues. At the Republican National Committee’s annual meeting, which begins on Wednesday in Washington, a coalition of conservatives plans to present a resolution urging the GOP to take a more forceful stance against abortion.
The “Resolution on Republican Pro-Life Strategy,” which was spearheaded by Delaware National Committeewoman Ellen Barrosse and co-sponsored by 15 other RNC members, was first obtained by CNN. “Pro-life Republicans should fight back against deceptive rhetoric regardless of those in the Republican Party who encourage them to stay silent,” the measure states, calling on conservatives to be forthright about their pro-life beliefs and urging the RNC to withdraw support from candidates who shy away from address abortion policy.
“Not talking about it has not worked well for us,” Barrosse explained to CNN. “Not responding has not worked well for us. It’s a conversation the party has to have.”
Kirsten Kukowsi, an RNC spokeswoman, echoed those sentiments. “After spending last cycle watching Democrats make false claims on the so-called ‘war on women,’ this is an acknowledgement that we need to take back the messaging and positively promote our pro-life agenda,” Kukowsi told the National Journal.
The resolution cites several abortion restrictions — such as parental notification laws,mandatory waiting periods, and later abortion bans — that Republicans should push for, since they tend to poll better with the American public. The measure will be introduced on Wednesday and will likely move on to a full committee vote on Friday.
The RNC’s annual meeting happens to coincide with the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. Earlier this month, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus announced that he will rearrange the meeting’s schedule to allow members to attend the March for Life, the annual anti-abortion protest in the nation’s capital. Priebus will also charter buses to transport people to the rally. It’s the first time that a major U.S. political party has worked to accommodate the March for Life.
So far, the GOP’s rebranding efforts haven’t gone very well. Polling released this past fall — about a year after the 2012 presidential elections spurred Republicans to reconsider their strategy for appealing to women — found that female voters are actually drifting even further away from the Republican Party.