THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2011 14:02 ET

Abortion saved my life

I almost died in an emergency room because the doctor on call refused to perform a necessary procedure

A version of this piece originally appeared on Mikki Kendall’s blog.

There’s this lawmaker out of Kansas, Rep. Peter DeGraaf, who has a lot to say about abortion. He’s currently best known for saying that women should plan ahead in case of rape and not expect their regular insurance to cover an abortion after an assault. And I could spend a lot of time discussing the flaws in his logic, or even hashing out when life begins, but what I’m really concerned about is the idea that anyone besides a pregnant woman should have a say in what she does with her body after finding out she’s pregnant.

I’m a mom, and I love my sons more than anything. And it is because I love them that I had an abortion at 20 weeks. It was my fifth pregnancy (I’d had two earlier miscarriages), and, as it turned out, my last. There was trouble from the beginning; I didn’t experience any of the normal indicators of pregnancy, so I was already ten weeks along when I found out. I hadn’t so much as missed a period; in fact, I was seeing an OB/GYN because of the increased heaviness in my cycle. When we found out, I talked it over with my husband and we debated an abortion before deciding we’d try to make it work. My doctor told me that my pregnancy was very high risk and that she wasn’t sure of a good outcome. Per her instructions, I took it very easy because I wanted to give the baby the best possible chance. But I kept having intermittent bleeding and I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to carry to term.

I was taking an afternoon nap when the hemorrhaging started while my toddler napped in his room when I woke up to find blood gushing upward from my body. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was experiencing a placental abruption, a complication my doctor had told me was a possibility. My husband was at work, so I had to do my best to take care of me and my toddler on my own. I managed to get to the phone and make arrangements for both of my children before going to a Chicago hospital.

Everyone knew the pregnancy wasn’t viable, that it couldn’t be viable given the amount of blood I was losing, but it still took hours for anyone at the hospital to do anything. The doctor on call didn’t do abortions. At all. Ever. In fact, no one on call that night did. Meanwhile, an ignorant batch of medical students had gathered to study me — one actually showed me the ultrasound of our dying child while asking me if it was a planned pregnancy. Several wanted to examine me while I lay there bleeding and in pain. No one gave me anything for the pain or even respected my request to close the door even though I was on the labor and delivery floor listening to other women have healthy babies as the baby I had been trying to save died in my womb.

A very kind nurse risked her job to call a doctor from the Reproductive Health Clinic who was not on call, and asked her to come in to save my life. Fortunately she was home, and got there relatively quickly. By the time she arrived, I was in bad shape. The blood loss had rendered me nearly incoherent, but she still moved me to a different wing and got me the painkillers no one else had during the screaming hours I’d spent in the hospital. After she checked my lab tests, she told us I would need two bags of blood before she could perform the procedure. Her team (a cadre of wonderful students who should all go on to run their own clinics) took turns checking on me and my husband. They all kept assuring me that soon it would be over, and I would feel much better. My husband had to sign the consent for surgery (I was clearly not competent enough to make decisions), and they took me away along with a third bag of blood to be administered during the procedure.

Later I found out that the doctor had taken my husband aside as they brought me into surgery. She promised him she would do her best to save me, but she warned him there was a distinct possibility that she would fail. The doctor who didn’t do abortions was supposed to have contacted her (or someone else who would perform the procedure) immediately. He didn’t. Neither did his students. Supposedly there was a communication breakdown and they thought she had been notified, but I doubt it. I don’t know if his objections were religious or not; all I know is that when a bleeding woman was brought to him for treatment he refused to do the only thing that could stop the bleeding. Because he didn’t do abortions. Ever.

My two kids at home almost lost their mother because someone decided that my life was worth less than that of a fetus that was going to die anyway. My husband had told them exactly what my regular doctor said, and the ER doctor had already warned us what would have to happen. Yet none of this mattered when confronted by the idea that no one needs an abortion. You shouldn’t need to know the details of why a woman aborts to trust her to make the best decision for herself. I don’t regret my abortion, but I would also never use my situation to suggest that the only time another woman should have the procedure is when her life is at stake. After my family found out I’d had an abortion, I got a phone call from a cousin who felt the need to tell me I was wrong to have interfered with God’s plan. And in that moment I understood exactly what kind of people judge a woman’s reproductive choices.

Scary news from Russia, cited from a anti-choice website. Note the involvement of US based Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and other local US groups. They may be proposing a 2 week waiting period, spousal consent requirement, limiting abortion on request from 12 to 8 weeks and proposing a conscientious objection provision.  They  also plan on proposing eliminating coverage of abortion under health insurance scheme and possibly restrictions on access to abortion on grounds of fetal impairment :


The nation is seeing worker and population shortages that are already beginning to take an economic toll. The nation’s Duma is considering legislation to address the problem.

Lawmakers in the lower house of the Russian parliament are working on legislation that they hope will cut the more than 1 million officially counted abortions taking place annually in the nation.

“The bill aims to create the conditions for a pregnant woman to opt for giving birth. We have public support but does the ruling party hear us?” Yelena Mizulina, head of the State Duma committee for family, women and children told the Ria Novosti news outlet.

The bill makes it so abortion would no longer be qualified as a medical service under the nation’s government-run health system, thus allowing physicians to opt out of doing them. The measure would also increase the monthly payments to pregnant women from the current 2,000 rubles ($70) a month until birth. The legislation could also make it illegal to do abortions in the second half of pregnancy.

“Doctors’ consent to do such operations is not the only problem. There are social and legal reasons behind the woman’s choice,” Mizulina said.

In a speech late last week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pledged to raise the nation’s birthrate by up to 30% in just three years. Due to a rapidly falling fertility, Russia has experienced a dramatic population decline, going from 148.5 million people in 1995 to 143 million today despite efforts by various governments to boost the birth rate. Unofficial estimates indicate that there are nearly 4 million abortions per year in Russia yet only 1.7 million live births.

Putin’s plan calls for spending the equivalent of 33 billion pounds to encourage Russian families to have more children. But World Congress of Families director Larry Jacobs says that more than cash incentives and government benefits will be needed to raise Russia’s well-below-replacement birth rate.

Against this underpopulation backdrop, the World Congress of Families will hold the world’s first demographic summit – “Moscow Demographic Summit: Family and the Future of Humankind” – at the Russian State Social University (RSSU), June 29-30.

RSSU is one of Russia’s largest public universities, with over 100,000 students, and the nation’s leading institution for educating social workers.

Jacobs noted the Summit comes at a crucial time. “It’s not Russia alone that’s experiencing demographic winter,” Jacobs observed.

“Worldwide, birthrates have declined by more than 50% since the late 1960s. By the year 2050, there will be 248 million fewer children under 5 years-old in the world than there are today. This birth dearth will be one of the greatest challenges confronting humanity in the 21st century,” he said.

Jacobs noted: “The Summit will include discussions of The Demographic Potential of Russia – The Importance of Pro-Family Public Policy in Russia and the West – Demographic Indicators of Developed and Developing Nations – The Crisis of Family: Marriage, Abortion, Contraception – Population Control – Influence of Demographics on Economic Processes – Human Capital and Family-Friendly Business Practices – Population Aging and Ways to Overcome Demographic Challenges.”

An array of prominent Russian speakers will include: Metropolitan Hilarion (Foreign Affairs coordinator of the Russian Orthodox Church), Dr. Zhukov V.I. (Rector of RSSU), Bishop Panteleimon (Russian Orthodox Church Social and Charitable Activities), Fr Dimitry Smirnov (ROC – Bioethics Commission), Natalia Yakunina (Sanctity of Motherhood Program, Center of National Glory), Fr Maxim Obukhov (ROC – Pro-Life Activities), Rostislav Ordovsky-Blanco (owner of Rosinter restaurant chain), Fr Vsevolod Chaplin (Relations of ROC and Society), Professor Anatoly Antonov (demographer, Moscow State Lomonosov University) and Igor Beloborodov, PhD (Institute of Demographic Research).

International Speakers confirmed include: Anna Zaborska (Member EU Parliament), Allan Carlson, Larry Jacobs and Don Feder (World Congress of Families), Patrick Fagan (Family Research Council), Steven Mosher (Population Research Institute), Philip Longman (New America Foundation), and Janice Shaw Crouse (Concerned Women for America).

Invited speakers include demographers, sociologists, economists, scholars, elected officials and leaders from around the world.

— By Kate Sheppard

Mother Jones

Fri Apr. 1, 2011 3:17 PM PDT
Hosea Motoro washing a condom. Image courtesy of IRIN.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) may have taken his anti-abortion message to Kenya last week, but the policies Smith and other Republicans in Congress are pushing here at home are actually quite likely to increase the need for abortions there. The GOP budget included a 32 percent cut in funding for international reproductive health and family planning programs. It would also stop US contributions to the UN Population Fund, which provides family planning supplies and services.

Seeking to restrict abortion access while at the same time cutting funds for contraception, sex education, and other programs that help prevent unwanted pregnancies is nothing new for conservatives. But as I was writing on Smith’s trip to Kenya earlier this week, I came across this horrifying story about men in northern Kenya washing and recycling condoms. From IRIN:

Local TV channels recently showed images of men in Isiolo, in rural northern Kenya, washing condoms and hanging them out to dry; the men said the price of condoms meant they could not afford to use them just once. Other men in the village said when they had no access to condoms, they used polythene bags and even cloth rags when having sex.

What’s distressing about this story is not that the men are doing this; indeed, that shows that education campaigns are working. IRIN talks to one man, Hosea Motoro, who is HIV positive and who walks 3 miles to the nearest health center to get condoms so he can avoid infecting and impregnating his wife. Sometimes, though, the health center doesn’t have any to give him when he gets there. “When you go and you are lucky to get [condoms], you use, then you wash and use another time,” says Motoro.

So while Smith was in Kenya pushing an anti-abortion agenda, back in the states he and his allies are trying to defund the very programs that could help prevent people like Motoro and his wife from needing an abortion in the first place.

Also among the anti-abortion inclusions in the House-passed budget bill is the reinstatement of the global gag rule, a policy that bars organizations that receive government funding from offering abortion services or even discussing abortion as an option. The gag rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, has been in place under executive orders issued by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan first instituted it in 1984. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama rescinded the rule as one of their first actions in office, but congressional Republicans now want to reinstate it through legislation.

The 1973 Helms amendment bans using foreign aid money to pay for abortion services. But the gag rule puts global health organizations in an even tougher spot: They can either offer abortion services and forgo federal funds, or they can take the money and not provide abortions. Since Obama repealed the order, international organizations that offer abortions can at least get funding for other vital services, like health care and family planning. But if House Republicans get their way, that will no longer be the case.


South Dakota Moves To Legalize Killing Abortion Providers

A bill under consideration in the Mount Rushmore State would make preventing harm to a fetus a “justifiable homicide” in many cases.

— By Kate Sheppard

Tue Feb. 15, 2011 3:00 AM PST

A law under consideration in South Dakota would expand the definition of “justifiable homicide” to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus—a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. The Republican-backed legislation, House Bill 1171, has passed out of committee on a nine-to-three party-line vote, and is expected to face a floor vote in the state’s GOP-dominated House of Representatives soon.

“The bill in South Dakota is an invitation to murder abortion providers.”

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, a committed foe of abortion rights, alters the state’s legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person “while resisting an attempt to harm” that person’s unborn child or the unborn child of that person’s spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman’s father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one.

Jensen did not return calls to his home or his office requesting comment on the bill, which is cosponsored by 22 other state representatives and four state senators.

“The bill in South Dakota is an invitation to murder abortion providers,” says Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers. Since 1993, eight doctors have been assassinated at the hands of anti-abortion extremists, and another 17 have been the victims of murder attempts. Some of the perpetrators of those crimes have tried to use the justifiable homicide defense at their trials. “This is not an abstract bill,” Saporta says. The measure could have major implications if a “misguided extremist invokes this ‘self-defense’ statute to justify the murder of a doctor, nurse or volunteer,” the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families warned in a message to supporters last week.

The original version of the bill did not include the language regarding the “unborn child”; it was pitched as a simple clarification of South Dakota’s justifiable homicide law. Last week, however, the bill was “hoghoused”—a term used in South Dakota for heavily amending legislation in committee—in a little-noticed hearing. A parade of right-wing groups—the Family Heritage Alliance, Concerned Women for America, the South Dakota branch of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and a political action committee called Family Matters in South Dakota—all testified in favor of the amended version of the law.

Jensen, the bill’s sponsor, has said that he simply intends to bring “consistency” to South Dakota’s criminal code, which already allows prosecutors to charge people with manslaughter or murder for crimes that result in the death of fetuses. But there’s a difference between counting the murder of a pregnant woman as two crimes—which is permissible under law in many states—and making the protection of a fetus an affirmative defense against a murder charge.

“They always intended this to be a fetal personhood bill, they just tried to cloak it as a self-defense bill,” says Kristin Aschenbrenner, a lobbyist for South Dakota Advocacy Network for Women. “They’re still trying to cloak it, but they amended it right away, making their intent clear.” The major change to the legislation also caught abortion rights advocates off guard. “None of us really felt like we were prepared,” she says.

Sara Rosenbaum, a law professor at George Washington University who frequently testifies before Congress about abortion legislation, says the bill is legally dubious. “It takes my breath away,” she says in an email toMother Jones. “Constitutionally, a state cannot make it a crime to perform a constitutionally lawful act.”

South Dakota already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, and one of the lowest abortion rates. Since 1994, there have been no providers in the state. Planned Parenthood flies a doctor in from out-of-state once a week to see patients at a Sioux Falls clinic. Women from the more remote parts of the large, rural state drive up to six hours to reach this lone clinic. And under state law women are then required to receive counseling and wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure.

Before performing an abortion, a South Dakota doctor must offer the woman the opportunity to view a sonogram. And under a law passed in 2005, doctors are required to read a script meant to discourage women from proceeding with the abortion: “The abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” Until recently, doctors also had to tell a woman seeking an abortion that she had “an existing relationship with that unborn human being” that was protected under the Constitution and state law and that abortion poses a “known medical risk” and “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.” In August 2009, a US District Court Judge threw out those portions of the script, finding them “untruthful and misleading.” The state has appealed the decision.

The South Dakota legislature has twice tried to ban abortion outright, but voters rejected the ban at the polls in 2006 and 2008, by a 12-point margin both times. Conservative lawmakers have since been looking to limit access any other way possible. “They seem to be taking an end run around that,” says state Sen. Angie Buhl, a Democrat. “They recognize that people don’t want a ban, so they are trying to seek a de facto ban by making it essentially impossible to access abortion services.”

South Dakota’s legislature is strongly tilted against abortion rights, which makes passing restrictions fairly easy. Just 19 of 70 House members and 5 of the 35 state senators are Democrats—and many of the Democrats also oppose abortion rights.

The law that would legalize killing abortion providers is just one of several measures under consideration in the state that would create more obstacles for a woman seeking an abortion. Another proposed law, House Bill 1217, would force women to undergo counseling at a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) before they can obtain an abortion. CPCs are not regulated and are generally run by anti-abortion Christian groups and staffed by volunteers—not doctors or nurses—with the goal of discouraging women from having abortions.

A congressional investigation into CPCs in 2006 found that the centers often provide “false or misleading information about the health risks of an abortion”—alleging ties between abortion and breast cancer, negative impacts on fertility, and mental-health concerns. “This may advance the mission of the pregnancy resource centers, which are typically pro-life organizations dedicated to preventing abortion,” the report concluded, “but it is an inappropriate public health practice.” In a recent interview, state Rep. Roger Hunt, one of the bill’s sponsors, acknowledged that its intent is to “drastically reduce” the number of abortions in South Dakota.

House Bill 1217 would also require women to wait 72 hours after counseling before they can go forward with the abortion, and would require the doctor to develop an analysis of “risk factors associated with abortion” for each woman—a provision that critics contend is intentionally vague and could expose providers to lawsuits. A similar measure passed in Nebraska last spring, but a federal judge threw it out it last July, arguing that it would “require medical providers to give untruthful, misleading and irrelevant information to patients” and would create “substantial, likely insurmountable, obstacles” to women who want abortions. Extending the wait time and requiring a woman to consult first with the doctor, then with the CPC, and then meet with the doctor again before she can undergo the procedure would add additional burdens for women—especially for women who work or who already have children.

The South Dakota bills reflect a broader national strategy on the part of abortion-rights opponents, says Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute, a federal reproductive health advocacy and research group. “They erect a legal barrier, another, and another,” says Nash. “At what point do women say, ‘I can’t climb that mountain’? This is where we’re getting to.”


Anti-choice Republicans militating against federal funding of family planning threaten to wreck vital work against HIV infection, Wednesday 9 February 2011
Around the world, people are fascinated by the political tussle between Democrats and Republicans over attempts to repeal the landmark US healthcare bill passed last year. Few people realise, however, that if the new Republican-dominated House of Representatives gets its way, it won’t just be Americans who are affected. As part of his repeal effort, House speaker John Boehner is intent on reintroducing the “global gag” rule, a policy that would endanger the lives of millions of women worldwide. America’s culture wars may be coming to a country near you.

The global gag rule, officially known as the Mexico City policy, was introduced by the Reagan administration in 1984, during the United Nation’s International Conference on Population in Mexico City. The policy prevents US overseas assistance from going to organisations that provide information on abortion, perform abortions or direct women to abortion providers.

Because the rule denies funding to organisations that simply counsel women on abortion issues, not just those that perform abortion, family planning Women from developing countries have been let down by the UN, say charitiesfacilities around the world cut back services, close facilities and raise their fees to cover lost income thereby reducing access to their services. These services include contraceptive distribution vital to the prevention of HIV/Aids. When George W Bush restarted the ideological war against family planning by reintroducing the gag rule in 2001, shipments of condoms and contraceptives from USAID was immediately halted to 16 countries. The impact was devastating.

Population Action International, an independent research organisation on family planning, reported that in Kenya five of the most established family planning clinics closed – many of which were the only affordable options in their areas. In Lesotho, where one quarter of women suffer from HIV/Aids, all condom donations from USAID were cut off. With fewer organisations to counsel on safe sex, and with fewer or no contraceptives to distribute, the gag rule actually increases the spread of HIV/Aids in some of the worse affected countries. This, of course, runs directly against official American policy aimed at reducing the number of global HIV infections.

Even more perversely, the policy is self-defeating. Research illustrates that instead of curbing abortions, the number of abortions increased. Countries with family planning services have lower rates of abortion than those without. Because women cannot get access to contraceptives and advice, they end up reliant on the last ditch option when pregnant: abortion. Often, desperate women resort to dangerous non-clinical practices in the absence of professional medical care. The results are horrific and inhumane.

Republicans are quick to accuse those who advocate for a woman’s right to chose of being pro-abortion. The reality is that we are pro-health. Being pro-choice is not equivalent to being pro-abortion. Rather, we understand that this is an issue best left to a woman and her doctor. Abortion is a fact of life, like it or not, and studies have shown that one of the best ways to reduce abortions is to offer preventive family planning, as well as immediate post-abortion family planning and counselling. The figures from one study on immediate post-abortion counselling in Turkey are revealing: the number of clients using contraception after an abortion and subsequent counselling rose from 67% to 91% in one year; and the number of abortions dropped over the decade from 4,100 in 1992 to 1,709 in 1998.

The global gag rule undermines America’s HIV/Aids policy, it risks the lives of countless women and it undermines a core American value – the freedom of speech. Women should have access to a wide variety of family planning and health counselling that should include everything from abstinence to abortion. To argue otherwise, given the evidence at hand, is not just reprehensible; it is immoral.

Is Providing Abortions Creating a “Nuisance”?

— Les Stone/

A judge in Wichita blocks a doctor from filling a vacancy created by the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

— By Kate Sheppard

Fri Feb. 4, 2011 3:00 AM PST

The first doctor to try to offer abortion services in Wichita, Kansas, since Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in a church in May 2009 has been blocked from doing so—by her landlord, who has claimed this would create a “nuisance.” And groups opposed to abortion rights are hailing this development as a major win on a prominent frontline in the national war over abortion.

Dr. Mila Means is a family practitioner in Wichita, and since last year she has been preparing to provide abortion services there. (She has been undergoing training with Kansas City abortion provider, Aid for Women.) But on Monday, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Means from performing abortions at her medical office or making any changes to the facility that would allow her to do so. Judge Jeffrey Goering granted this order at the behest of Foliage Development, Inc., the owner of the building that houses Means’ office.

According to a lawsuit Foliage filed on January 28, Means requested permission from her landlord last fall to begin offering abortion services in her office later this year. The landlord turned her down, maintaining that it would violate her lease by “creating a clear nuisance to and disturbing the peaceful possession of all other tenants.” The landlord says that Means indicated that she would proceed with the plan anyway, which he claims would violate the terms of the lease.

The nuisance, however, would stem from protests the landlord anticipates—not from anything that Means would do. Anti-abortion activists from Operation Rescue, which is headquartered in Wichita, have already begun protesting outside her office. An event they held last December at the building attracted about 100 people, including counter-protesters. The landlord’s suit contends that once Means begins to offer abortion services, more protestors, demonstrators, and police will be drawn to the building. The suit notes that the Kansas Coalition for Life has threatened to hold daily protests outside Means’ office and that Operation Rescue has posted Means’ office address and contact information on its website.
According to the landlord’s complaint, the Kansas Coalition for Life has informed the landlord that “it will be a circus out there.” Already, the landlord says, three other businesses in the building have threatened to move because of the possibility of protests.
Wichita has long been an abortion-rights battleground. Operation Rescue relocated its headquarters there in 2002, taking over a building that had once housed Wichita Family Planning, to concentrate on its campaign against Tiller, a prominent provider of abortion services. On May 31, 2009, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder assassinated Tiller while the doctor was serving as an usher at the Reformation Lutheran Church.

Means would be the first doctor to perform abortions in Wichita since the murder. But before she even could start, Operation Rescue made her a target, posting her photo and address online. “She’s taking the biggest burden,” says Jeff Peterson, the manager at Kansas City’s Aid for Women. His office is getting heat, too. “Local protesters are referring to us a jihadist training camp, saying that we need to be dealt with like jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is a little bit scary,” says Peterson.
Operation Rescue and its president, Troy Newman, have pledged to use all “peaceful and legal means” to keep Wichita “abortion free.” In a press release hailing the court’s temporary restraining order against Means, Operation Rescue touted the fact that Wichita “has been free from abortions since the closure” of Tiller’s office. Another anti-abortion outfit, Kansans for Life, has been sending out emails warning that a “grave evil threatens our community” and assailing Means for attempting to set up “a killing center” in Wichita.
Peterson says his organization agreed to train Means because of the need for abortion services in Wichita. “We’re doing this for George [Tiller],” Peterson notes. “I’m doing it for the patients. Troy Newman says nobody in Wichita wants this. Then why are people from Wichita coming up here [to Kansas City]? We’ve got a lot of Wichita patients coming here, having to drive three hours because there isn’t a doctor close to them.”
Means’ office declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing legal process. Foliage Development, Inc. also declined to comment. But Foliage has asked the state court to permanently bar Means from performing abortions at the site. The court has ordered Means to appear at a February 15 hearing.
Kari Ann Rinker, state coordinator for the National Organization of Women and a Wichita resident, says the city had four abortion providers in the 1990s—until anti-abortion activists began waging fierce campaigns against each of them. Eventually, Tiller was the only remaining provider in town. Now the one doctor who wants to fill the vacancy his murder created is being thwarted—not because she’s creating a nuisance but because anti-abortion crusaders are.


Republicans are using healthcare repeal to try to roll back abortion rights. Who will speak up for American women’s needs?

Anti-abortion campaigner
In November 2009, before the healthcare bill was passed, Democratic legislators were already being targeted by anti-abortion protesters: here, a demonstrator is arrested by US Capitol police after refusing to leave then House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington, DC. Now, mainstream Republican lawmakers are making the defunding of abortion part of their campaign to repeal the healthcare act. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The 22 January marked the 38th anniversary of Roe v Wade – and already Republicans are celebrating with fresh attacks on abortion rights. Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, recently put out the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”, a bill that would permanently prohibit taxpayer money being spent on carrying out abortions. Such a ban is already in place but must be renewed every year by Congress; this would get rid of that hassle.


And more disturbing, given its potential impact on an entire range of women’s health needs, is the “Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act”, sponsored by Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana. If passed, the law would deny federal money to any organisation that provides abortions at all – the argument being that there is no definitive way to guarantee that funds used for, say, birth control or STD treatments won’t slip into the “abortion pot”. The effect would be to severely limit, if not eliminate, groups like Planned Parenthood that provide a variety of family planning needs.

The irony, of course, is that none of this will actually lower the number of abortions in America. Just look at Latin America, where abortion is almost unanimously banned, but where abortion rates are nonetheless among the highest in the world. Instead, asKatha Pollitt recently pointed out in the Nation, all these restrictions and hurdles will only force more women to risk having illegal abortions after they realise the clinic in their town has been defunded. The truth is Planned Parenthood, a huge provider of contraception, has probably done more to lower the abortion rate in America than all this conservative posturing.

Nevertheless, while these bills do not decrease abortion, they do definitely degrade women’s political and social status – which may be the larger goal, anyway. After all, in the case of abortion, while many other countries, including the UK, consider a woman’s decision to have an abortion to be a serious health issue, Republicans treat the procedure like an unfortunate side-effect of women’s petty, selfish natures. Instead of acknowledging the often difficult physical and economic consequences of carrying and caring for a child, the assumption behind much of their rhetoric is that women cannot be trusted to make such a decision – hence laws in some states that require women be shown an ultrasound before a doctor can proceed with a termination.

One effect of this is that women’s needs in society are increasingly seen as expendable, even when there is widespread support for them. Eighty-two percent of American women have used the pill, for instance, and yet, somehow, Republicans have found a way to make even this controversial. Indeed, the 2010 healthcare act requires all new health insurance plans to pay for preventative services for women – but be prepared for a battle over whether birth control is considered preventative.

If it even comes to that. As Sharon Lerner wrote, also in the Nation, even “the Obama administration is moving cautiously on the issue.” I somehow doubt lawmakers are losing sleep over the prospect of a similar showdown on the subject of vasectomies, which are widely covered by insurance agencies. Of course, it’s unfathomable.

In December, despite widespread support for abortion rights throughout most of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights upheld Ireland’s ban on the procedure, arguing that since the country’s law is founded “on the profound moral views of the Irish people as to the nature of life”, it should be granted an extra “margin of appreciation”. On Congressman Smith’s bill, House Speaker John Boehner applied the same logic: “A ban on taxpayer funding of abortion is the will of the people, and it ought to be the will of the land.”

What is too often not being said is that this stance only makes sense if you exclude vast numbers of women from the equation, from what constitutes a people and a land. Are the thousands of Irish women who travel each year to another country for one of the most common medical procedures on earth not considered members of “the Irish people”? And similarly, are the millions of American women – more than one in three – who will have an abortion by their 45th birthday not American?

Republicans, and especially the religious right, have won far too much by skewing the image of the average American. It’s not just crazy liberals who get abortions or use birth control, but conservatives are so adept at giving this impression that even leading Democrats are often, at best, sheepish on the subject, focusing on decreasing abortion instead of also defending it as a human right. Of course, getting an abortion is no walk in the park – many decisions in life are not – but if performed safely, it can provide great relief and promise. Democrats would do well to remember that there are millions of women out there who can, openly or just in the voting booth, attest to this.