California’s Democratic-majority assembly passed a bill Tuesday that would require crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to offer pregnant people information about state programs providing reproductive health-care services, including abortion.
AB 775, co-sponsored by Assembly members Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood) and David Chiu (D-San Francisco), would require licensed clinics that offer family planning or pregnancy-related services to provide a notice to customers detailing their reproductive rights.
Known as the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, the bill specifically requires CPCs to inform patients that California has public programs providing immediate, free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women.
CPCs strategically misinform and deceive pregnant people, always with the same underlying message: Bring the pregnancy to term. That, along with other findings, were published by NARAL Pro-Choice California in a March report, which examined common CPC practices.
CPC workers, according to the report, tell women that going through with an induced abortion is unnecessary, because the chance of a spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage, is 30 to 50 percent. Center workers, most of whom are not medical professionals, often dress in white coats like a physician would.
“We know that reproductive and pregnancy-related care is time sensitive. Our legislation ensures that women receive timely and standard care when seeking services in our state, no matter where they go,” Chiu said last week during a press conference, urging passage of the bill. “With AB 775, all clinics will be held to the same standard, and all patients will have access to clear, timely information about their health care rights.”
Sandra Palacios, associate director for governmental relations for the California Catholic Conference, told Reuters that her organization opposes the legislation and would support litigation to challenge it if signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).
“If I walk into a pro-life center, then I’m trying to figure out what can I do to get some medical help to make sure that my baby is safe and healthy,” Palacios said. “It’s almost like saying that I’m walking into McDonald’s but they’re supposed to put up a notice that says across the street a Burger King or something better is offered.”
The assembly approved the bill with a 49-26 vote.
The bill would require facilities without medical licenses that advertise and provide pregnancy testing and care to post a notice saying they have neither a license nor licensed providers on staff. Many CPCs in California are unlicensed.
CPCs that are not licensed by the state as clinics would not be subject to the same regulations. However, they would be required to disclose they are not licensed medical providers.
The move by the Democratic-controlled legislature to further regulate CPCs is in stark contrast to lawmakers in Republican-controlled state legislatures that have introduced legislation in recent years to allow anti-choice CPCs to operate without regulation or oversight.
Some cities in California have taken steps to curb the influence of CPCs, including San Francisco, where CPCs are prohibited from engaging in false or misleading advertising, and a judge can order the center to post notices saying that they do not offer abortion services or referrals.
The legislation now moves to the Democratic-dominated senate for further consideration.
The post California Assembly Requires Anti-Choice Centers to Discuss Abortion Options appeared first on RH Reality Check.
I drive by what used to be Whole Woman’s Health’s flagship abortion clinic here in Austin all the time. Every time I pass by, I think of how it never really felt like a doctor’s office inside. Warm, purple walls. Inspirational quotes painted inside counseling and exam rooms. A recovery room filled with cushy recliners. More like a retreat, or maybe a sanctuary.
But there’s been a “For Rent” sign outside for months, ever since HB 2, the 2013 omnibus anti-abortion law, forced it and dozens of other providers to shutter last year.
I hated seeing that “For Rent” sign. And now I’m pleased to report that it’s gone. Instead, Austin Whole Woman’s Health has been reincarnated as an organizing and co-working space called ChoiceWorks, the operational headquarters of a new nonprofit from Whole Woman’s Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller: Shift.
Shift, according to Hagstrom Miller, is a group “working to strategically shift the stigma around abortion in our culture,” and “committed to fostering open and honest conversations, lifting up all communities, and advocating for reproductive freedom.”
I sat down with Hagstrom Miller and Shift Program Manager Amanda Williams at ChoiceWorks to talk more about their vision for Shift, why they’ve chosen to launch in Texas, and what the end of abortion stigma might look like in red states.
RH Reality Check: Big question first: What is Shift? How’s it related to Whole Woman’s Health?
AHM: Whole Woman’s Health has always been involved in the advocacy and education realm, with a really strong commitment to having open and honest conversations about abortion in the context of the wider range of reproductive rights and justice issues and a human rights framework. People don’t just experience abortion as a medical procedure. And they don’t just experience it as a civil right, either. In the direct service realm, the conversation about abortion has some ambiguity around it. So how do we get that nuance into the public policy and culture change sphere?
I noticed years and years ago that the only people talking about abortion in public were the people who were against it. We would have people in our clinics who would say, “Not only did I have a great abortion experience, but this is the best health-care experience I’ve ever had. But it’s at an abortion clinic.” And they would articulate: “I feel so empowered, I made the right choice, I feel affirmed.” So they have this great, empowering experience and they walk out the door and there’s just silence on the issue. Nobody’s talking about abortion as though it’s a good in our society, or as though good women would have an abortion. I had this banner outside Whole Woman’s Health for years that said, “Good women have abortions.” People flipped out.
Inside our clinics, we talk to people and say, you know, there’s no one right way to have an abortion. People say, “Hey, can I see my fetus?” And we’re like, sure. They say, “I wanna baptize it.” Sure. Let’s do it. Let’s figure it out.
And so Shift is trying to take that sort of experience we have in the service out into the public sphere where it’s really needed.
RHRC: Why a nonprofit? Why now?
AHM: We’ve always had a 501(c)(3) ever since we opened—that was an abortion fund, before a lot of abortion funds existed. But then a couple of years ago, in the middle of the 2013 legislative session, we started to have people really interested in how to help my voice and Whole Woman’s voice remain on the scene.
The voice that we’re bringing is very unique: We’re speaking on behalf of providers, talking about how real people experience abortion as a medical service but also as a cultural experience. How can our voice remain in that conversation around reproductive rights? It’s very different than the researcher voice or the patient storytelling stuff that Advocates for Youth or Sea Change is doing, and it’s different from the family planning folks who sometimes avoid talking about abortion.
From that idea grew a much stronger foundation than our previous 501(c)(3) work. We had support from multiple donors saying, “We’d like to see you do crisis mitigation,” “We want your clinics to be able to be open,” and “We want to see providers be able to continue to be a voice and continue to influence policy stuff.” Like: If there’s an amendment about to be introduced by the Democrats, let’s make sure it actually helps. Or, let’s sit with [legislators] and say: This is what an ambulatory surgical center does, this is what the regulation already is.
We see ourselves in a place to be able to have a 501(c)(3) with much more funding and structure to be able to do longstanding culture change work and movement building. Informing some of the policies. Helping us figure out what proactive policy would look like.
RHRC: Do you have any hopes on that front, or work you’ve done so far in that direction?
AHM: I always fantasize: What would it look like if abortion care were treated as legitimate in women’s health care, just like miscarriage management or delivery? There would be no question that abortion is covered by insurance or Medicaid. We’d have standards of care that aren’t targeted in a negative way, but in positive ways. There wouldn’t be stigma, so that you could talk about it openly and honestly. We could reframe the notion that there’s only one kind of woman who has an abortion, or that abortion isn’t a normal part of a medical history. That’s our goal: To say everything is normal, everything is funded, everything is talked about.
If that’s our goal, how would we get there from here? Obviously being involved in abortion funding work, and the economic justice work of All Above All and other campaigns, but also really trying to figure out ways that we can be of service to progressives, to talk about abortion better.
Some of our programs are inviting people to come into the clinic—this, where we’re talking, is one of those clinics. We have a safe space where we kind of re-enact a day in the life of a clinic for not just the media, but our allies. We’ll walk through, literally from the phone call all the way through the paperwork, ultrasound, and counseling, so people can see how regulations actually affect the service, experientially. But then we could also have this interaction where people can, in a safe place, say, “But what is that you’re seeing in the ultrasound? What happens in the ultrasound? Can I see the instruments?” And they’ll say things like, “Oh my goodness, there aren’t any sharp instruments,” or “Can I see the fetal tissue?” or whatever. A safe place where we can do education about what actually happens.
Amanda Williams: Just earlier, I walked the Texas Freedom Network through the space and I showed them the equipment, and one of the women was like “Aaaaah!” The way we just have it there for them, I’m like, you can touch it! My vocabulary’s a little rusty on what everything is, but I walked them through as much as I could. She was quiet and I was like, “So what do y’all think?” And she was like, “This is awesome.” They loved it. She’d never had an abortion, but they talk about it all the time. They work on these issues. I’m like, y’all were doing abortion work, but you had no clue. There’s that disconnect.
AHM: One of the things I love to do, with staff, we do this thing I call “downriver.” Which teaches the staff how the jobs fit together and why they’re all important. Staff members get up on to the table. They play a patient. So when a guy gets on the table and puts his feet in the stirrups, it’s profound. I turn on the suction machine so people can hear what it sounds like. Even though they’re not having an abortion, there’s some stuff that people go through. Sometimes they get a little triggered, and that vulnerable, emotional place is where we want to teach people. This is what we’re doing here. That’s the fun part. I see us being able to do some education for people in the field who are providers who may not get the same kind of education about their jobs that Whole Woman’s provides to the people who work for us. But also have it be a place where literal destigmatization happens. Like, “Can I touch the machine?”
AW: And talking about that. Like, your ignorance about the procedure is a product of stigma. You can actually see that connection. That’s what’s powerful for me. Those shocked faces. This is stigma!
AHM: And this is my whole life’s work of turning lemons into lemonade. I have, as it turns out, a bunch of suction machines I don’t know what to do with. So if they can become used for show and tell? Awesome. I have all these nitrous oxide mixers. Are we going to throw them away? Or I can use them. So that’s part of this space. It’s part of a reclaiming.
Being able to do these “Abortion 101” workshops are, in my mind, the beginnings of what I would call kind of an “Abortion University,” which would train not only progressive people, but people in the field who aren’t doctors. So the counselors, the advocates, the administrators. Like, who teaches you, as a liberal arts grad, how to run a clinic and host a health department inspector? How are we training people in the field to handle the dynamics of working in red states and working with TRAP laws? Figuring out regulatory compliance, things like that.
We can also practice handling the things that people may have uncomfortable issues about. For example, how can I help somebody prepare for a question about 20-week bans they’re going to get as a progressive? How can I help them learn how to pivot, or help them learn to talk from a level of expertise, while also acknowledging that moral complexity?
We see ourselves as facilitating these open and honest conversations and not being afraid to talk about any of the difficult stuff, because we see it all the time around abortion as providers. Because the people we serve are pretty articulate about the hang-ups they have. They come from the broader culture and they go back into the culture. It’s not a mystery. We’re not messaging for people we don’t see. The people are right in front of us! So in some ways I feel there isn’t an affiliation really between Shift and Whole Woman’s Health, except for our clinics are kind of a lab for us. They’re where we learn what people want to talk about and how they want to have things framed. And then we can be able to talk about the issues with the kind of complexity that has people start to feel like their voices are being heard and their stories are being respected.
RHRC: What are some specific programs or policies that Shift is working on?
AHM: We’ve been funded for doing some hotline work where we can collaborate and bring advocates, patients, and providers together in a statewide way. So that we can coordinate. And do something about the fact that so many people think abortion is illegal. Doing like some billboards or some web campaigns that say, “Do you need an abortion? We can help you.” You’re triaging people, helping them get to the abortion fund, helping them get to a clinic that’s open. And knowing there’s going to be people who call us who’ve tried to self-induce. Or who have a question like, “Is there a place where I can go in my community where they won’t hurt me, or judge me?”
So we placed two billboards on Highway 83 (the main thoroughfare in the Rio Grande Valley), in McAllen, Texas. They say, “If you need an abortion, we can help you and you’re not alone” in Spanish. And they have the Shift logo and a link to SafeAbortion.org. We have to do billboards in lots of places. Our goal would be to do them in West Texas, right? And facilitate a hotline, but also radio, or on a bus, or different ways to reach a population of people who really have no idea.
We’ve been funded for bigger things, but we’ve also done some crisis mitigation stuff in the Rio Grande Valley, and a mural for the clinic there.
There’s a spirit of entrepreneurial innovation in our clinic services delivery, and we can kind of bring that to this nonprofit advocacy organization. In that spirit: We try stuff. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t, but we keep trying stuff.
RHRC: Are there existing organizations or groups that are doing work you find informative or inspirational?
AHM: There are a few of us, independent abortion providers, who’ve worked in the clinic and in the advocacy realm both. Primarily they’re women-led, women-owned sort of organizations that come from this framework of “I do direct service work and I have a clinic, but I do it because I’m trying to make the world a better place for women.”
I think of my friend Tammi Kromenaker in North Dakota. I think of my friend Renee Chelian in Detroit. I think of Preterm, a clinic in Ohio. Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta. People who are doing this kind of praxis, where they’re speaking about life as a provider in the public realm and the advocacy realm. Part of what I’d like to do is I want to figure out a way to support and train providers to go out into the world and have a place where we work through “Why am I hiding in the shadows?” Or, “Am I participating in the stigma on some levels?” And can we facilitate some conversations about the “bad provider”?
AW: Because right now we kind of just ignore them.
AHM: The bad provider thing is rough. How can we talk about that? Whenever I see the word “access,” I don’t want access to abortion, I want access to quality abortion. I host little debates within the field: Is any abortion a good abortion? I don’t think so. I want us to have those ethical debates.
In my mind there are some clinics that haven’t kept up with holistic approaches, whose providers understand women don’t just experience abortion as a medical procedure, and they also may not have kept up with modern medicine. Is there a way we can go into the community and keep access but also raise the standard of care? It’s not that people are doing harm, but abortion in my mind is specialty medicine, and it involves an approach that’s holistic. You should have fundraising for women, counseling programs, and other reproductive health-care options for people as part of your service. So some folks who are just in the medical model, emptying the uterus safely, are kind of old-school. We can go in and help them retire gracefully and take what started in the 1970s forward into the next generation.
That’s a big part of what we do at Whole Women’s Health. But how do we talk about that?
That’s where Shift comes in. Because we need to. We don’t want the byproduct of these regulations to be that there’s only giant providers who can raise money to build ambulatory surgical clinics and that’s all we have. That’s what happens when you have high regulation on abortion care. You have people who, in order to comply with the law, have to be giant. You can look at other “industries” and you can totally see that. They’re doing away with the mom-and-pop businesses in the same way. Barnes and Noble. Walgreens.
I think we could do some storytelling about clinics like the Feminist Women’s Health Clinic in Atlanta, or of Emma Goldman in Iowa City or Tammi’s clinic in North Dakota. That could be part of what we try to do to talk about what good abortion [care] looks like, without talking about “bad providers.” [Ed. note: See RHRC reporting exposing unethical providers here.]
RHRC: Who are you telling those clinic stories to? Or telling them for?
AW: I often think that a big piece of our movement-building work is reaching people who don’t even talk about abortion at all. How do we incorporate them into the conversation? How do we reach them where they are? This everyday person who might have an idea of what abortion is but will be easily persuaded into believing abortion is wrong, because that’s the narrative that’s currently out there. So I see Shift being key in taking control of that narrative and taking back that storytelling power. Whether that’s in our community work or in the media: reaching everyday people and incorporating them into this movement in a way that no one in Texas is doing. That’s something I see us being very capable of doing. And when you talked about organizations that influence us, I love the work that the Sea Change Program has done, although I think we would be very different. The work they do with the book clubs and stuff—I love their research. I think we can use that.
AHM: They have the research, and they’re very much in line with the content, but the service provision is something they don’t have.
AW: We can bring that into the conversation in a way that no one else can. Reaching everyday people is something that campaigns or organizations have tried to do, in a way, but they always end up reaching the same kind of people. So I hope that we can shift that and finally make waves in that area. That’s going to take a lot of collaboration. That’s going to take a lot of community work and a lot of education, frankly. Because I think our audience is going to be different than what’s traditionally the audience in this movement. Especially when so many groups are so focused on policy. How can we participate in that, but break away from it?
AHM: And Shift, there’s a lot of things we can do with that. Shifting Texas. Shifting stigma. Shifting whatever kinds of things we need to work on. Because abortion encompasses a lot of it, but I think there’s other stigmatized reproductive health issues, and it’s all really intertwined. Because it’s about power, and it’s about putting us in our place. And we know that. But abortion becomes this lightning rod for a lot of it. And it’s by design. It’s good for the other side to keep the lightning rod on abortion, because then they don’t have to talk about the other stuff.
People have often said to me, especially the last two years, “You should work in the political sphere!” I’m just like, first of all, no way. Second of all, I see that disconnect so strongly. Even yesterday with our coalition partners, we got in this heated argument, we’re talking about policy about our strategies reaching Latinas in the Rio Grande Valley or whatever, and I’m like, you know the vast majority of my patients aren’t Democrats. Republicans have abortions every day inside my clinics. Let’s talk to them. What seed could we plant there? When 95 percent of Texans identify as Christian? And 70,000 of them every year have abortions. Woah! That’s something to work with. And they’re here! These clients have figured out how to reckon with “I’m a Christian Republican but I am the kind of person who had an abortion.” They may not talk about it after they walk out of our door, but all of those things are true. So what invitation can we make for them to see themselves differently? Or see pro-choice differently?
RHRC: Maybe those patients could tell you, or coalition partners, something really valuable about messaging that’s not currently working.
AHM: Oh, they do, all the time.
RHRC: Because as you say, there are 70,000 Texans getting abortions here every year. We know that.
AHM: They’re sitting right here! They’re sitting here, almost all of them, like literally almost all of them, with another person with them. People say, “People just need to tell their abortion stories,” and I’m like, no they fucking don’t. I mean, I love when they do. But we can’t make shifting the movement that person’s burden. That’s not her fucking job. She doesn’t owe that to us. So I get super animated about this, “Oh we just need to have more patients tell their stories,” you know? No we don’t! We have providers that don’t talk about what they do. For good reason, and there’s a risk there. So what if we start with the loved one who called and made the appointment? What if we start with the person who’s here, who says, “I’ve helped someone get an abortion. I’ve loved someone who got an abortion.” That’s not so scary to say. Because no one’s asking you to name who it is. No one’s asking you if you caused the abortion.
I envision pregnancy histories that are taken on men, that ask men their pregnancy history as part of their health history. Like, down the road, I would love that. “How many pregnancies have you had?” Because I want a frame where we can talk about how men benefit from abortion. We’re not there yet. It drives me nuts, but it drives me nuts for a reason I’m trying to shift. Nobody thinks they’re going to need an abortion until they do, so nobody pays attention to the law until they need an abortion. So some of that, changing who we’re talking to.
AW: And making space for difference. A lot of times when we talk about storytelling, we’re all waiting for the abortion moment in the story. But really people want to talk about their lives. We need to be listening for not the abortion itself, but their lives. Really, the highlight should be on the person’s life and their journey and not just the abortion. That’s where we strive to be this, sort of, platform of the difference.
AHM: Amanda hit the nail on the head. Journalists always ask me this all the time: “So how come your movement isn’t being successful and those gay people have had all the success?” And this is at the root of it right here: It’s that your abortion doesn’t define who you are. It’s not who you are as a person. It’s not your identity. Where, being gay is who you are. Abortion is like, something you did. That’s why I don’t like this whole coming-out thing about abortion. Because it’s not an identity.
RHRC: There are, though, people on the anti-choice side who wear their abortion, specifically their abortion regret, as their entire identity. Texas state Rep. Molly White comes to mind.
AHM: Right. But I think there’s something for us to work on there. This is a new thing I’m trying to develop. I want Shift to incubate this stuff. Should we have a campaign where white men talk about how they benefitted from abortion? It sort of makes you throw up in your mouth a little bit, but maybe actually people listen to them. Would that work? I don’t know. Like, “I got to go to law school because my girlfriend in college had an abortion.” Like, holy shit! Because it’s true. What would happen if that happened? These are the things I think about all the time in the Shift context. What if we told this story? Would it work? Would it not? What if we have a woman talking about her abortion who’s breastfeeding? Woah! Would that be good or would that backfire? We should try it. In a small pilot.
I’m guessing we’ll probably make some pro-choice people uncomfortable.
RHRC: So what is your role as the provider at the table?
AHM: For a while I was the only provider funded for this state advocacy work in any of the states. I believed, so strongly that I could barely keep my mouth shut, that if we work on culture change and movement building and policy work, and we leave clinics still doing bad abortions in the state, it’s never going to work! I feel really strongly about this. So if we as a movement can’t talk about that? Our goals on the culture change and policy? It’s never gonna work. It’s never gonna work because you’ll have those photographs, whether they’re of Gosnell or Steve Brigham, and anti-choicers [are] going to use those clinics as examples of every abortion. And the abortion provider doesn’t have any sympathy in the public.
So this is where I see: Oh, we’ve got to tell a more nuanced story about why we do this work. What is this work? It’s not just uterus-emptying. But we’ve got to be able to talk about the service. And our avoidance of it? People see it. They see it so clearly. I want to, behind the scenes at first, work on our stuff. So that we don’t leave what my friend Charlotte Taft calls the “crumbs at the picnic.” We have a picnic and we don’t clean up and anti-choicers grab every little crumb. Abortion, money! Ooh, “late-term” abortion! Fetal pain! Oh, sex-selection! I could make a list of all the things that all of us are terrified of being asked about. That’s totally by design.
And when we say “Oh, abortion is only part of what we do,” or “Oh, we believe in prevention first,” how can we as a movement say those things proudly, but not say them in a way that stigmatizes?
AW: Real talk. Real talk about abortion. That’s our tagline.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Anti-choice legislators, following days of infighting between mainstream Texas Republican lawmakers and Tea Partiers, missed a key Tuesday night deadline to approve a bill that would have banned abortion care coverage in insurance plans purchased under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives had until midnight to give preliminary approval to SB 575, which would force Texans to purchase supplemental insurance for abortion care coverage outside of a “medical emergency”—effectively asking them to predict, annually, whether they will need an abortion in the next year.
The anti-choice measure would also ban insurance coverage for abortion care under certain insurance plans for state employees, including Texans who work for public universities. The bill does not contain exceptions for rape or incest.
Conflict over SB 575 reached a boiling point Sunday night in the legislature, when volatile Tea Party Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) berated a colleague on the house floor, nearly engaging in fisticuffs, after learning that the influential House Calendars Committee had voted not to place SB 575 up for debate.
The committee’s surprising bipartisan vote came with three Republican women, including Tea Party Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball), voting against scheduling the insurance ban for debate. Riddle later said on Facebook that she “didn’t read it properly” and that her vote against SB 575 was a “mistake.”
Stickland said he’d been promised that SB 575 would be brought up for debate in exchange for Stickland walking back an earlier threat to revive a proposal to ban legal abortion care in cases of life-incompatible fetal anomaly.
After Stickland’s fit of rage on the GOP-controlled house floor, the calendars committee reconvened at Riddle’s insistence, this time without other members who had opposed SB 575, and voted to move the bill forward, scheduling it for a hearing on Tuesday, but behind a number of other high-profile bills.
Bills must be “read” three times in the Texas legislature, with debate typically happening on the second reading. Tuesday was the last day for the Texas house to approve bills on second reading, and Democrats—who number 52 in that chamber to the GOP’s 98—spent the day “chubbing,” or delaying, debate on as many bills as possible to prevent SB 575 from coming up on the floor.
SB 575 wasn’t the only contentious bill Democrats hoped to “chub” into oblivion. GOP leadership had scheduled the abortion insurance ban after two other bills expected to draw lengthy debate: one, a “campus carry” bill allowing college students, professors, and university employees to carry concealed weapons into dorms and classrooms, and the other an ethics reform bill championed by Gov. Greg Abbott.
The ethics reform bill ultimately passed, and the campus carry bill looked to be doomed until just before midnight.
Democrats filed dozens of amendments to the campus carry bill to slow it, and the party’s master of parliamentary procedure, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), called a procedural point of order during the gun debate that threatened to take the entire bill down just before midnight. Nevertheless, Republicans gathered enough signatures to bring the bill to a vote and negotiated with Democrats to pass a version of the bill that would have to be sent into a conference committee with the Texas senate to be further ironed out, potentially blocking its passage despite Tuesday’s vote.
SB 575 never made it to the floor, but another anti-choice provision may make it to the governor’s desk: HB 3994, an omnibus bill that places severe restrictions on abused and neglected pregnant minors who seek legal abortion care without parental consent and requires abortion providers to demand government identification from their patients, garnered final approval from anti-choice senators on Wednesday.
The post Texas Republicans Fall Short on Abortion Insurance Ban appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday struck down an Arkansas law that bans abortions at 12 weeks, ruling the ban’s narrow exceptions were not enough to make the anti-choice law constitutional.
Act 301, the “Arkansas Heartbeat Protection Act,” bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected and at 12 weeks or later, with narrow exceptions for the life of the pregnant person, cases of rape or incest, and those that involve a “lethal fetal disorder.”
The law, considered to be among the most radically restrictive in the nation, has been blocked by a federal judge since March 2014.
“This law was about banning abortion, plain and simple,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “Other states looking to pass similar laws should pay close attention. Again and again, the courts have struck down these types of laws. It’s long past time legislators stopped trying to push their own politics on a woman who has decided to have an abortion.”
Attorneys for the state had argued that even though the law, if enacted, would ban nearly all abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation, Act 301 was not a pre-viability ban but merely a regulation because of the narrow exceptions. The Eight Circuit rejected that argument, but held open the possibility that similar restrictions could be upheld should the state offer more evidence.
“By banning abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation, the Act prohibits women from making the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy at a point before viability,” the decision said. This case “underscores the importance of the parties, particularly the state, developing the record in a meaningful way so as to present a real opportunity for the court to examine viability, case by case, as viability steadily moves back towards conception.”
Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, lauded the court’s decision, but denounced persistent anti-choice attacks in state legislatures nationwide.
“Women should not have to run to court in state after state, year after year to protect their constitutional rights from these politically motivated attacks,” she said.
The Eighth Circuit heard arguments on the Arkansas ban at the same time it heard arguments on the constitutionality of a North Dakota law that bans abortions as early as six weeks. A decision in that case has not yet been released.
The post Federal Court Permanently Blocks Arkansas’ 12-Week Abortion Ban appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The Alabama house passed legislation Tuesday that would prohibit clinics offering abortion care from being located near schools, charging that children should be protected from anti-choice protests.
Lawmakers, after a two-hour floor debate, passed the bill with a 79-15 vote. Republicans hold a 72-33 house majority.
HB 527, sponsored by Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle), would empower the Alabama Department of Public Health to reject applications or refuse to renew a health center license for facilities providing abortion or reproductive health-care services located within 2,000 feet of a public school.
The anti-choice measure targets the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives Services, one of five clinics in the state providing abortion care and a longtime subject of the state GOP’s anti-choice regulatory proposals.
The Alabama Women’s Center is located across the street from Edward H. White Middle School. The clinic recently moved to the location after being forced to relocate to comply with the so-called Women’s Health and Safety Act, passed by Republicans in 2013.
The move cost $550,000, according to clinic administrator Dalton Johnson.
Henry said the intent of the legislation was to protect school children against protests from “both sides,” along with displays of graphic signs outside the clinics.
“The kids are being exposed to an element of life that they really don’t need to be exposed to at 4 or 5 or 6 years old,” Henry said, reported the Associated Press. “It’s a volatile atmosphere that our children shouldn’t be subjected to.”
There are no students attending White Middle School, which is vacant and undergoing renovations. The school will open in the fall as a magnet school, serving students in prekindergarten through eighth grade.
Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) countered that if protests outside abortion clinics are the problem, then lawmakers should pass legislation restricting the protesters. “Let’s get real here. Who’s the problem? It’s not the clinic. Your bill is directed at the wrong entity,” Todd said, reported the Associated Press.
Henry said he would oppose the regulation of protests. “We cannot infringe their First Amendment rights,” he said, reported the Montgomery Advertiser.
Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) questioned whether the 2,000-foot restriction was an arbitrary requirement or based on any evidence. Henry replied that he did not know how the distance requirement was determined.
Henry had previously told the Times Daily that the distance was based on the state’s sex offender laws. “We were advised counsel that a good approach was to use the same standard of keeping sex offenders from public schools, which is 2,000 feet,” he added. “That is what the bill is based on.”
Registered adult sex offenders are prohibited from living within 2,000 feet of a school or child-care facility, under Alabama state law.
The bill originally applied to any reproductive health clinic, but house lawmakers approved an amendment addressing concerns that the legislation may have been too broad and could have been applied to any OB-GYN office or fertility clinic.
Legislators rejected another amendment that would have grandfathered in the Alabama Women’s Center.
James Henderson, the former head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, told the Montgomery Press-Register his group drafted the legislation with the purpose of forcing the Alabama Women’s Center to close. Henderson resigned as executive director of the organization to lobby the state’s dominant Republican majority to pass anti-choice legislation.
Todd criticized Republican lawmakers for not supporting pregnancy prevention programs or other measures to help young mothers and families after a pregnancy is carried to term. “Your whole focus is this nine-month period, and then boom, you don’t care,” Todd said, reported the Mobile Press-Register.
The Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates released a statement opposing the legislation, calling it a targeted attack on women’s health care in the state.
“This bill was brought about out of the frustrations of the anti-abortion protesters in North Alabama who have been attempting to block access by manipulating existing laws unsuccessfully,” the statement said. “These protesters are now seeking to use the Alabama State Legislature as a pawn at the expense of the taxpayers to carry out a personal vendetta. By likening a healthcare facility to a sex offender in the wording of the bill it is clear that the intent is not to make women safer, but to deny access in Huntsville.”
The bill now moves to the senate, where Republicans hold a 26-8 majority. Lawmakers have five days remaining in the legislative session.
The post Alabama GOP Passes Bill Regulating Abortion Clinics Like Sex Offenders appeared first on RH Reality Check.
05.27.15 - (PRESS RELEASE) The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has permanently blocked Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Today's decision upholds a federal district court ruling from March 204 striking the extreme law as unconstitutional under more than four decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent—first in Roe v. Wade and again in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—affirming that states cannot ban abortion prior to viability.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Today’s ruling affirms that safely and legally ending a pregnancy remains a protected constitutional right in this country.
“Women should not have to run to court in state after state, year after year to protect their constitutional rights from these politically motivated attacks. The Constitution and the courts are clear: A woman’s right to decide for herself whether to continue or safely and legally end a pregnancy does not change depending on what state she happens to live in."
SB 134 in Arkansas would have banned abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy with only narrow exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergencies. SB 134 was enacted in March 2013—just two days after Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe vetoed the measure—when both houses in the state legislature voted to override his veto. The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and ACLU of Arkansas filed suit in April 2013 against the ban on behalf of two physicians who provide abortions in Little Rock. A federal district judge permanently struck down the ban in March 2014, saying the extreme measure would “prevent a woman’s constitutional right to elect to have an abortion before viability.”
Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women's Health Protection Act (S. 217/HR. 448)—a bill that would prohibit states like North Dakota and Arkansas from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.Federal Court Permanently Strikes Down Arkansas 12-Week Abortion Ban as Unconstitutional Arkansas Governor Vetoes Unconstitutional Legislative Assault on Reproductive Rights Arkansas Legislature Ignores 40 Years of Supreme Court Precedent, Overrides Governor Veto to Enact Most Extreme Abortion Ban in the Nation Center for Reproductive Rights and ACLU File Lawsuit to Block Extreme and Unconstitutional Abortion Ban in Arkansas
A Louisiana senate committee hearing Tuesday on an abortion ban based on the sex of the fetus ended with a tense exchange between a committee member and the bill’s author.
HB 701, sponsored by Rep. Lenar Whitney (R-Houma), would prohibit physicians from intentionally performing or attempting to perform an abortion if they know the pregnant person is seeking the abortion because of the sex of the fetus.
A motion to report the bill as favorable resulted in a 2-2 vote by committee members along partisan lines, preventing the bill from going to the full senate, where Republicans hold a dominant 26-13 majority.
During the hearing, a committee member asked Whitney if there was any evidence of sex-selective abortions taking place in Louisiana. “No documentation that says it presently goes on in Louisiana,” Whitney said.
Son Ah Yun, deputy director of programs and policy at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), testified against the bill because she said it perpetuated negative stereotypes about Asian-American communities.
“America is not India. America is not China. And HB 701 is not the solution,” Yun said.
Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, said during his testimony in favor of the bill that for the “pro-life movement there is never an acceptable reason for an abortion,” but called the bill a “common sense measure” to prevent sex-selective abortions.
Lang Le, a member of the New Orleans Vietnamese community, testified in favor of the bill and said that many Asian nations have dealt with widespread sex-selection abortion. “Unfortunately some Asian-American groups have made their opposition to the bill known, but they do not speak for everyone within the Asian-American community,” Le said.
Ellie Schilling, an attorney who represents abortion providers and clinics, spoke in opposition to the bill and criticized the legal language she said would allow a broad range of people to file lawsuits under the law and be held liable under the law.
The bill prohibits any penalty from being imposed against the person seeking the abortion, but would allow the father or a grandparent of the aborted fetus to sue the physician or anyone who assisted in performing the procedure.
Schilling said that the lack of exception for rape and incest could potentially allow a rapist to file an injunction against the victimized pregnant person in order to prevent them from terminating the pregnancy.
”This provides a very drastic solution to a problem that does not exist,” Schilling said. “The intent of this bill seems clearly for the purpose of frightening physicians and to have a chilling effect on the practice of abortion care.”
Deanna Candler, a Louisiana State University law student and president of LSU Advocates for Life, testified in favor of the bill and said that there were false reports about the scope of the bill’s language.
“The allegation that this bill could apply to a receptionist is completely ludicrous,” Candler said. “It’s specifically limited to the person who performed the abortion.”
The bill’s language defines anyone who is involved in “scheduling or planning a time to perform an abortion on an individual” as “attempt to perform an abortion,” and could hold them civilly culpable. Damages for up to $10,000 could be sought from those who believe the abortion was based on the sex of the fetus.
Whitney, during her closing comments, said voting against the bill was akin to murder.
“If you’re willing to kill baby girls you should vote no, if not then this is an easy yes vote for you,” Whitney said. Those comments caused a heated rhetorical exchange between Whitney and committee member Sen. Karen Peterson (D-New Orleans).
Peterson took exception to the remarks, and asked Whitney if her vote against the bill made her a murderer. “Do you really mean that if I vote no, I’m for killing baby girls?” Peterson asked. “Do I look like a murderer?”
“I think that you would be voting not to protect the innocent life of a baby girl because of her sex,” Whitney responded.
Peterson called the usage of that kind of language “quite harmful.”
A representative from the office of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) was at the hearing in support of the legislation, but did not testify before the committee.
Lawmakers in the house passed the legislation in a 84-2 vote. Republicans hold a 59-44 majority in the house.
The post Louisiana Lawmakers Clash as GOP Fails to Advance Anti-Choice Measure appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Last week, the news surfaced that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the TLC reality-show Duggar family, molested several girls younger than him between March 2002 and March 2003. The Duggar family, according to the tabloid In Touch, elected to handle the crimes in-house for several months, by sending Josh to work manual labor for a summer with a family friend, and asking him to have a conversation with a state trooper, also a family friend. This same trooper was later convicted of child pornography and is currently in prison after re-offending. No official investigation was opened until December 2006, after the statute of limitations in Arkansas had passed.
This is the timeline of events as we know them. The story exploded onto everyone’s feeds late Thursday, resulting in TLC pulling the show on Friday. Many feminist writers are wondering whether the network proceeded with the television series in 2008, with the full knowledge of Duggar’s crimes, or if they simply accepted a sanitized narrative from the family. These are all good questions, and I’m sure we’ll get the answers to them in due time.
But it is doubly important that we carefully examine the sociopolitical and theological environment that allowed such abuses—and their apparent cover-up—in the first place. And we must think about the impact that this hyper-conservative Christian theology can have on survivors of this kind of abuse.
The Duggars are part of a theological movement called “Quiverfull,” a deeply conservative sector of Protestant theology whose most salient characteristic is a disregard for birth control—including the rhythm method. Such families also tend to be politically conservative, believing white Christianity in America to be under threat. Producing godly Christian children to carry on the gospel, both politically and socially, is vital to the continuation of the faith: You must have lots of “arrows”—children—in your “quiver.” More children means more demographic power, according to this philosophy, and the ability to control societal and governmental outcomes by maintaining hold of majority power.
And typically attendant with this theology is a whole host of conservatively minded elements. Women are to stay in the home; men are to be breadwinners. Women are to be conservatively and modestly dressed, and sexual purity is prized above all things when entering into a marriage contract. Generally, men and women marry young and start producing children quickly.
On the blog No Longer Quivering, women who grew up in Quiverfull families tell their stories of escaping the movement and discuss the strict patriarchy that underlays the movement. One contributor, Sarah Henderson, writes that power and status are built into the structure of the family. “In patriarchal families, children are often authority-tiered in birth order, although the preference in the ranking is sometimes given to boys,” she writes.
As a woman named Libby Anne writes of her experience within the Quiverfull movement:
My parents believed in more than just a wife’s submission to her husband. They also believed that children are under their father’s authority. … For boys, this lasted until age eighteen. … For girls, this lasted until marriage. … This meant that while my brothers would be out from under my father’s authority when they turned eighteen, I would not. My parents also believed that if my father died, I would be under the authority of my nearest male relative, which in practice meant my younger brother.
The theology is not shy about making sure that men are the heads of households and women are subservient. Frequently, families are so large that older female siblings are enlisted in helping to care for the younger, allowing the mother to focus on newborns. Such a practice not only places minors in charge of each other; it frequently places the work of educating the family members in the hands of people who are still learning things themselves. This combination of factors creates a vortex of little to no education and a lack of skills transferrable to the outside world. In other words, the theological sect perpetuates itself by keeping women dependent upon the family structure until they are married off into a family approved by their patriarch—which is usually another family within their denomination. Women are functionally without power or voice within this movement; leaving it often means leaving behind every social structure you have ever known.
Additionally, the conservative values of modesty and purity create an environment where talking about sex is verboten. As those formerly involved in the movement write, women cover themselves to prevent lust on the part of men, and women are trained from an early age to prioritize the needs and wants of the men around them—including their siblings. A woman who is sexually impure outside of marriage, no matter how it happened, is not marriage material.
The families within this tradition form a close-knit network of groups, depending on each other for education, monetary support, and marriage. The groups are at once paranoid about outsiders while also prizing conversion to their very particular way of life. This desire for evangelism of others explains why the Duggars saw getting a TV show as a good move in the first place.
These elements combine to produce a conservative Christian culture in which victims can be silenced and sexual abuse may be excused as part of an abuser’s redemption story. The prioritization of forgiveness means that having a neat, clean story of Jesus’ power is often more important than actually stopping harm from being done.
So Josh Duggar’s victims likely had a number of things working against them. In addition to the typical problems facing victims of childhood sexual abuse, these young girls existed (and continue to exist) in an environment that prioritizes the redemption of men over the pain of the women they hurt. Coming forward for any one of the victims meant going against a very powerful patriarch in their sect, and it meant an “admission” of sexual impurity on their part.
In the Duggars’ narrative of events, Josh admitted his crimes to his now-wife, Anna, during their courtship, and Anna forgave him. The police report from 2006 also notes that the young victims of the Duggars had been spoken to about the events and that they all had “chosen” to forgive Josh for his transgression. But in a world as theologically, socially, and politically constrained as the Duggars’, is it really possible for these girls—some younger than ten years old—to really understand a concept as weighty as forgiving the man who abused you?
Any forgiveness in such a situation is a Band-Aid over a bullet wound at best. These women may genuinely feel that the abuse they experienced has no real impact on their lives now. But it is undeniable that the environment in which they were raised and the heavily moralistic and gendered purity culture in which they exist contributed both to their abuse and to the subsequent cover-up and minimization of such acts.
This problem of sexual abuse in conservative Christian environments is not just a Duggar problem. This is not an anomaly. This kind of cover-up, this kind of abuse and minimization is all too common for such theologies. It’s just that not every story will involve a national television star.
Image: ABC News/ YouTube
The post How the Duggars’ Conservative Christianity Can Enable Abuse and Cover-Ups appeared first on RH Reality Check.
In spring of 2013, Itai Gravely received what must have been an alarming phone call from a man named Dr. Byron Calhoun. A year earlier, Gravely had obtained an abortion at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia to terminate a nine-week pregnancy. Calhoun was the physician who treated her at the Charleston Area Medical Center Women and Children’s Hospital (CAMC) the next day, for severe pain and bleeding, suffering what appeared to be complications from the abortion.
During that phone call, Calhoun told Gravely for the first time that when he had examined her at CAMC a year prior, he had found a 13-week old fetal skull in her uterus. In addition to giving Gravely this new information, Calhoun gave her the name and number of well-known anti-choice lawyer Jeremy Dys—a move that a West Virginia judge would later call “remarkable.”
Calhoun kept one crucial detail from Gravely during that phone call, a detail that might have made her think twice before calling a lawyer: The pathology report which was conducted after her treatment at CAMC established that there was no fetal skull present in Gravely’s uterus, and contradicted Calhoun’s claims to the contrary. Calhoun had been presented with that pathology report long before he decided to pick up the phone and dial Gravely’s number.
Based on the evidence, it’s hard to avoid a conclusion that Calhoun—who did not reply to our emails seeking comment for this report—lied to Gravely, dragging the young woman and her most personal information into a bitter public fight over abortion care, using her as a prop in his own ideological campaign.
But why would Calhoun do such a thing? For an answer to that question, we must recall what was going on with the abortion debate in West Virginia in the spring of 2013.
At the time Calhoun made that questionable phone call, anti-choice forces were doing all they could to capitalize on the Gosnell trial, and in particular, to find evidence of more “Gosnells” around the United States. Calhoun was a part of this effort. He is among the nation’s most prominent anti-choice OB-GYNs and is a member of multiple organizations that work to strip away the constitutional right to legal abortion.
It’s not a stretch, then, to surmise that by giving Gravely the name and contact information of an anti-choice lawyer, Calhoun was hoping to spur a lawsuit that would cast abortion in a negative light.
Within months, it seemed that Calhoun’s efforts had succeeded. On June 7, 2013, Gravely filed a lawsuit against the abortion clinic and Rodney Stephens, the physician who performed the abortion. West Virginia’s anti-choice attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, jumped on the bandwagon less than two weeks later; he sent letters to the state’s abortion providers seeking “information” about their policies and procedures. All of this was part of Morrisey’s public case to “review” West Virginia’s regulation of abortion.
If it’s hard to believe that a doctor would take advantage of a patient in this manner to further his ideological goals, consider what we already know about Byron Calhoun.
Calhoun, a professor and a vice chair at West Virginia University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is a member of RH Reality Check’s gallery of False Witnesses, a group of anti-choice doctors and scientists known for promoting junk science and using false statements to undermine access to abortion.
We know that Calhoun wrote a letter to attorney general Patrick Morrisey in June 2013 claiming an extraordinarily high number of cases involving abortion complications in West Virginia.
“We commonly (I personally probably at least weekly) see patients at Women and Children’s Hospital with complications from abortions at these centers in Charleston,” he wrote.
And finally, we know that claim turned out to be a lie. As RH Reality Check reported in 2013, months after Calhoun made his claims public, S. Andrew Weber, the vice president and administrator of the hospital, found the charges to be false. Weber found five documented complications from abortion in 2012, not the weekly complications that Calhoun claimed to have seen.
Now it looks like we can add “phantom fetal skulls” to the list of things Calhoun claims to see despite evidence to the contrary.
The question now is whether the new administrator at West Virginia University will continue to allow this ideologue with a track record for mistakes, at best, and dishonesty at worst, to continue teaching students and attending to women in West Virginia.
The facts of Gravely’s lawsuit are sad and will hopefully impel the administrator to terminate Calhoun in order to protect the health and safety of pregnant people in West Virginia.
The lawsuit told the story of a young woman persuaded to undergo an abortion by overzealous doctors who ignored her demands to stop the procedure, and physically restrained her so they could finish the abortion against her will.
The lawsuit described the “near tortuous pain” that Gravely endured because the clinic allegedly didn’t sedate her properly.
The lawsuit also described the desperation Gravely felt when, after experiencing bleeding and pain for more than 24 hours, she called the clinic to explain her symptoms. Although clinic personnel encouraged her to return to the clinic for a follow-up, Gravely said she could not afford the cost of transporting herself back to the clinic, so instead she called an ambulance to take her to the local emergency room. That’s where she encountered Calhoun.
Gravely declined to speak to RH Reality Check for this story.
Calhoun performed an ultrasound on Gravely, and what he saw—or didn’t see—on that ultrasound image would become a crucial element of the case, going directly to Calhoun’s competence and credibility.
According to the lawsuit, Calhoun claimed that he saw a 13-week fetal skull in Gravely’s uterus when he reviewed the ultrasound, after which he ordered Gravely to undergo emergency dilation and curettage (D and C) surgery to evacuate “the remaining, degenerating, ‘products of conception’” from her uterus.
At the time, there was no mention to Gravely about a skull remaining in her uterus.
Perhaps that is because, according to the pathology report that was done after Gravely’s emergency D and C, there was no fetal skull present in her uterus.
Despite being presented with this pathology report—which clearly contradicted his claims about finding a fetal skull—Calhoun nevertheless called Gravely a year later and told her that surgeons had removed a fetal skull from her uterus.
It is important to highlight the effect that this phone call, and the subsequent lawsuit, had in undermining reproductive rights in West Virginia, and to make it clear that that was exactly what this lawsuit was intended to accomplish.
The day after Dys filed the lawsuit on Gravely’s behalf (in partnership with well-known anti-choice group Alliance Defending Freedom), he held a dramatic press conference across the street from the Women’s Health Center. Notably, Gravely did not attend the press conference.
As expected, the anti-choice media seized on the story.
“Botched Abortion Leaves Baby’s Head Inside Mother’s Womb!” screamed one headline on Life News at the time the lawsuit was filed.
“Abortionist forced young woman into procedure, left ‘parts’ in her womb,” read another headline at Live Action News.
Not two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the attorney general himself weighed in, using Gravely’s case to leverage political capital in his campaign to roll back access to safe and legal abortion care in West Virginia.
“Ms. Gravely’s lawsuit has revealed potential gaps in West Virginia’s regulation of abortion clinics,” Morrisey wrote in a letter to Dr. Rodney Stephens demanding answers about the operations of Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the clinic where Stephens worked. “What exactly happened to Ms. Gravely must still be investigated and resolved in court, but it is clear that larger questions about abortion regulation may also need to be addressed.”
“No one wants crimes similar to Gosnell’s to be committed in West Virginia,” he added.
Since the filing of the lawsuit and Morrisey’s ensuing inquisition, anti-choice legislators in West Virginia have stepped up their efforts by introducing more than 30 regressive laws, even overriding Gov. Tomblin’s veto to pass a 20-week abortion ban that is flatly unconstitutional.
It’s all the more egregious then to learn that Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit tossed all of Gravely’s claims out of court, and in doing so, cast grave doubt about whether Calhoun had given a truthful account of what had happened in the emergency room that day—both in his call to Gravely, and in his sworn testimony.
Judge Tabit deftly swatted away every claim Calhoun made in service of Gravely’s lawsuit.
Calhoun claimed that because Gravely had revoked her consent to the procedure, Stephens should have stopped the abortion, and not physically restrained her. Tabit demolished this claim, pointing out that Gravely heard suctioning while she was lying on the operating table, and that “it is undisputed that once the procedure is initiated such that the surgeon has used suction, it must be completed.”
Calhoun also claimed that Stephens gave Gravely insufficient anesthetic, thus exposing her to severe pain. Tabit smacked down that claim too, noting that Gravely’s undisclosed heroin habit “may have caused later complications when pain-relieving measures were employed during the procedure.”
Calhoun testified that Stephens fell short of national standards requiring that a physician secure a patient’s informed consent when a pregnancy is terminated. Another swing and a miss. Under West Virginia law, physicians are not required to personally secure consent; they may delegate that duty to a licensed health-care professional or an agent of the physician, which is exactly what Stephens did. The court therefore found that Gravely had consented to the procedure after being properly informed of the risks.
Judge Tabit dismissed every single claim, even calling some of them “immaterial, and frankly, sensational.”
Her incredulity regarding Calhoun’s claims practically drips from the pages of her order, although she does stop short of stating that Calhoun made false statements about the fetal skull.
Still, the mystery remains as to how Calhoun’s statements that he saw a fetal skull can be reconciled with the pathology reports that indicated there was no fetal skull. How could Calhoun have gotten these facts so badly wrong?
That’s a question that his employers are now asking as they assess whether or not to retain him, according to the Charleston Gazette.
RH Reality Check spoke with several abortion providers to try to understand these questions ourselves.
Calhoun could have misread an ultrasound of Gravely’s uterus, thinking that he was seeing a 13-week fetal skull when he was in fact seeing either microscopic air bubbles or what are known as “retained products of conception” from Gravely’s first procedure, abortion providers told RH Reality Check.
“Retained products of conception” is a catch-all phrase that refers to anything remaining in a woman’s uterus from the pregnancy, including both maternal and fetal tissue such as small parts of the placenta or blood clots. It is possible, though very unlikely, that these tiny air bubbles could form a bright line on an ultrasound, resembling the cartilage of a fetal skull, and that’s what Calhoun saw.
That, however, is a particularly generous interpretation, according to Cheryl Chastine, a physician who provides abortion care.
“That’s very much a stretch,” she told RH Reality Check. “A practicing gynecologist should know the difference.”
And a practicing gynecologist, such as Calhoun, who is also the vice chair of an obstetrics and gynecology department at a major state university, should definitely know the difference. The best reading of this scenario is that Calhoun made an honest but embarrassing mistake, one that was ultimately disproven by the pathology report, which indicated that no identifiable fetal parts were present in Gravely’s uterus.
Another possibility is that Calhoun did find a 13-week fetal skull when he examined Gravely, but that by the time of Gravely’s emergency D and C, her body had naturally passed it.
But the timing makes this very difficult to believe, since Gravely underwent the D and C just four hours after she was admitted to the emergency room, meaning there was likely even less time between the ultrasound and the procedure. Because many of the court documents remain under seal, however, RH Reality Check does not know whether there is any documentation that could support or rule out this possibility.
Even so, there is something deeply suspicious about Calhoun’s fixation on the fetal skull. Experts told RH Reality Check that even if there were fetal parts in Gravely’s uterus, once they were removed, she was not in physical danger.
In addition, abortion providers said that they would have informed a patient that they had found retained products of conception at the time of the examination, but that naming the specific body parts smacks of an ideologically motivated attempt to be provocative.
Given the timing of this lawsuit—coming so quickly on the heels of the Gosnell verdict—and given that Calhoun is active in anti-choice circles, one wonders whether telling Gravely that he had found a fetal skull in her uterus was borne of his anti-choice ideology rather than true concern for his patient.
This brings us to that mysterious phone call.
None of the experts with whom we spoke could understand why Calhoun would wait a year before calling Gravely to tell her about the fetal skull.
“I’ve never heard of that, ever,” said Kim Chiz, the director of nursing at Allentown Women’s Center. “I’ve not heard of a circumstance where a physician waited a year and called a patient out of the blue. I wonder what his motives might be.”
Willie Parker, an independent abortion provider in Alabama and Mississippi who holds a faculty appointment at Northwestern School of Medicine, agrees. “If there was indeed a fetal skull, there should have been a pathology report, and that information would not and should not have been withheld from the patient,” he said. “That’s problematic,” he added.
Also, given Calhoun’s well-known anti-choice bias, it makes it difficult to believe that he would have found the fetal skull and said nothing at the time.
And as for connecting a former patient with a lawyer, experts told us that was unfathomable.
“I can’t think of any situation where I would tell a patient they should sue,” Parker told RH Reality Check. “And certainly I have never had the capacity to provide a patient with the name of an attorney who would take the case.”
“It would be appropriate to tell a patient that the care was substandard and to have her records reviewed, but seldom would a physician conclude that they had enough facts to recommend a suit, or would feel comfortable facilitating one,” Parker continued.
“It’s unethical,” he added.
Even the judge found it odd.
“Approximately one year after he performed the D&C, Dr. Calhoun phoned the plaintiff and advised her that there had been a 13-week fetal skull in her uterus retained from the procedure at the clinic,” Judge Tabit wrote in her order. “Remarkably, he encouraged her to call a lawyer and provided the name and number of counsel in this case, Mr. Dys.”
Dys did not reply to our requests for comment for this report.
What if Calhoun invented a story about a fetal skull in an effort to push for increased regulation of abortion in West Virginia? What if he called up an emergency room patient that he had not seen for a year in order to feed her a lie about a fetal skull and manipulate her into filing a lawsuit, and then swore under oath, both in a deposition and in the screening certificate of merit, a key piece of evidence without which Gravely’s lawsuit could not have been filed, that he had seen a fetal skull?
Of course, lying to a patient is very bad, but knowingly presenting false evidence in a courtroom is another thing altogether.
Margaret Chapman Pomponio, the executive director of WV Free, West Virginia’s largest reproductive rights advocacy group is demanding accountability for Calhoun’s behavior. Last week, Pomponio wrote an open letter to Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean of West Virginia University’s Health Sciences Center, in which she called for Calhoun’s termination, describing Calhoun as “ruthless.”
Pomponio, who is pregnant with twins, wrote that she has been forced to seek care outside of Charleston at Marshall University’s Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and that she is aware that Calhoun has prevented other women from seeking care in their hometown as well, according to the Charleston Gazette.
“After discussion with my husband, we decided that I cannot take the chance that I might need specialized care by this man, as it is abundantly clear that he is unable to provide unbiased treatment or consultation,” Pomponio said.
Sharona Coutts contributed to this report.
Image: SymMaternalHealth/ YouTube
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