At a hearing today on his bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy without exception, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona said he opposed adding a rape exception to the bill in part because “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”
Franks added, nonsensically, “But when you make that exception, there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that’s impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation. And that’s what completely negates and vitiates the purpose of such an amendment.”
Franks’ misinformed, Todd Akin-like comments on the mechanics of pregnancy are just the latest in a long line of extreme anti-choice positions.
At a rally in Germantown, Maryland this week, anti-choice activist Lila Rose compared the effort to bring about “the complete end of abortion” with the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, the movement to end child labor, the Revolutionary War and the early women’s movement.
Who says we can’t have an America completely free, with the complete end of abortion? We can have that America. We overcame many things in our history. We’ve overcome many things, from slavery to civil rights abuses in the 20th century to child labor. We’ve overcome many things, even the Revolutionary War to have our independence won. We’ve overcome many things in this country. The women’s rights movement for suffrage. And we can overcome, to defeat the hopelessness and the lies and the despair that says that we need abortion somehow. And it’s happening.
Rep. Trent Franks, Republican of Arizona, joined Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and anti-choice activist Lila Rose on an FRC webcast yesterday on “exposing America’s late-term abortion industry.” Franks, who recently introduced a bill that would institute a national ban on the rare practice of abortion after 20 weeks, compared his fight against reproductive rights to the ending of the Holocaust and the abolition of slavery. “We are the ones that rushed into Eastern Europe and arrested the Holocaust, we are the ones that said no more to slavery after thousands of years, and by the grace of God, we’re going to be the ones that say that we’re going to protect our own children,” he said.
When Perkins asked him to elaborate on the stakes of his bill, Franks answered that if it fails, “I would suggest to you that we undermine everything that America was ever dreamed of to be and we step into that Sumerian night where the light of compassion has gone out and the survival of the fittest finally prevails over man…If we turn our backs on this, I’m afraid we’ve broken the back of what America really is.”
The anti-choice movement has for several years been experiencinga quietrift over extreme state-level measures would ban all abortions – and in some cases, in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control – in a head-on challenge to Roe v. Wade. As Personhood USA and Janet Porter gain more and more success in pushing “personhood” and “heartbeat” bills at the state level, national pro-life groups who oppose the laws for strategic reasons find themselves in a bind.
In March, when North Dakota passed a “heartbeat” bill which would ban nearly all abortions in the state and strike directly at Roe v. Wade, it also passed two narrower measures banning abortion based on genetic abnormalities or the sex of the fetus. The national anti-choice group Concerned Women for America praised heartbeat the bill, while Americans United For Life issued press releases that ignored the bill and praised the narrower measures. National Right to Life went even further, actively speaking out against the North Dakota bill and similar “heartbeat” measures in other states.
In an article for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly this week, Americans United For Life’s senior counsel, William Saunders, lays out his fears of what would happen if the Supreme Court were given the opportunity to reconsider Roe v. Wade. While he praises the “admirable and inspiring” efforts behind the trio of new abortion restrictions in North Dakota, Saunders warns that a direct challenge to Roe will give the Supreme Court a chance to rewrite their 1973 decision on more solid “equal protection” footing.
Instead, he argues, anti-choice activists should target incremental measures at wearing away the opposition of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted to uphold the so-called “partial birth” abortion ban in Gonzales v. Carhart. “Can the statute be fashioned so as to make it as easy as possible for him (and the others) to go the one step (or two or ten) further than Gonzales in restricting abortion?,” he asks.
Taken together, these three laws provide significant food for thought.
While the persistent efforts of pro-life Americans at the state level are admirable and inspiring and must be encouraged, how does one evaluate the wisdom of any particular proposed (or enacted) law? First, I suggest, one must recognize the legal realities—what kinds of statutes will the courts certainly overturn? Of course, this is not to say that the courts should govern this matter. In fact, the usurpation of the political process by courts is, in my view, unconstitutional itself and should be resisted. However, if we know a law will be overturned by a court, we should consider the risk of such a decision. At least one significant risk is that the Supreme Court, in overturning a law, will entrench “abortion rights” more firmly in constitutional jurisprudence, perhaps under an “equal-protection”-based right, as Justice Ginsburg and three colleagues wanted to do in the Gonzales dissent.
Sad as it is to consider, Gonzales was decided by only one vote, that of Justice Anthony Kennedy. The opinion he wrote for the majority, while speaking of the right of the legislature to choose among divided experts in fashioning law and while recognizing that abortion harms at least some women, did no more than uphold the outlawing of one abortion procedure when others were available. Is such a person likely to uphold a ban on all abortions at any point in pregnancy? If so, what rationale for doing so (what basis) is likely to appeal to him? Can the statute be fashioned so as to make it as easy as possible for him (and the others) to go the one step (or two or ten) further than Gonzales in restricting abortion? Might a statute with a ban (or limit) early in pregnancy lead him to “protect” the “abortion right” and vote with Ginsburg and her colleagues in favor of a firm affirmation of a “constitutional” right to abortion? Is it better to move the ball gently, seeking to build momentum for the ultimate reversal of Roe/Doe, or to force the issue with a broad and early ban? While reasonable people can differ on the answers to these questions, the consequences of a possible forty more years of unlimited abortion due to another Casey-like decision by the Supreme Court counsels for very careful consideration of what prudence requires.
A jury today found Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell guilty in the deaths a woman and three infants in a squalid, nightmarish abortion clinic. Anti-choice groups have been closely following the trial, attempting to link Gosnell’s crimes to the very existence of legal abortion. They have exploited the Gosnell trial to push for state-level “TRAP” laws meant to close abortion clinics with unnecessary regulations. Now, anti-choice groups are targeting legal abortion in Washington, DC.
Reacting to the Gosnell verdict, the Family Research Council and the Susan B. Anthony List both singled out a bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, that would ban abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah also plugged the bill in an interview with Janet Mefferd about Gosnell. The bill, similar to several that have been considered in state legislatures, is based on the disputed claim that 20 weeks is the point at which a fetus can feel pain. Such procedures are rare, accounting for just 1.5 percent of abortions.
DC has long been a convenient target for Republican lawmakers looking to expand school vouchers, eliminate needle exchange programs, stop gun control measures…and, of course, infringe on abortion rights. Thanks to a 2011 budget deal, for instance, the District is currently barred from using its own local tax dollars to help low-income women access abortions – a policy that has been in effect off and on for 25 years.
When soon-to-be Senator Tim Scott was running for Congress in 2010, he touted his record as a social conservative in the state house. On the “Social Conservative” page, he featured his support for three outrageous anti-choice bills.
The first was the so-called Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, a disgusting and misleading piece of legislation. According to Scott’s site, the bill would “protect babies who survive abortions.” The second bill, the Right to Life Act, was described as a “step in the right direction to recognize ‘pre-borned’ (sic) babies as ‘human persons’ with the same equal protection under the law as borned citizens (sic).”
And then there was the Unborn Children’s Monument Commission. The bill, explained Scott’s site, would lead to the erection of a “monument on the statehouse grounds to remember all the aborted babies in South Carolina.”
A JOINT RESOLUTION TO CREATE THE SOUTH CAROLINA UNBORN CHILDREN'S MONUMENT COMMISSION TO ERECT A MONUMENT ON THE STATE HOUSE GROUNDS AS A MEMORIAL TO SOUTH CAROLINA CHILDREN WHOSE LIVES ENDED BEFORE THEIR BIRTH AND TO PROVIDE FOR THE POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE COMMISSION AND TO REQUIRE PRIVATE FUNDING FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THIS MONUMENT.
By 2011 Scott was serving in Congress, but the effort to erect the monument moved ahead without him. The version of the bill introduced last year includes this stipulation:
The monument must be a wall six feet high and five feet wide depicting a pregnant woman pushing a baby stroller.
Throughout the 1840s, J. Marion Sims, who is often referred to as "the father of gynecology", performed surgical experiments on enslaved African women, without anaesthesia. The women regularly died from infections resulting from the experiments. One of the women was experimented on 30 times. In order to test one of his theories about the causes of trismus in infants, Sims performed experiments where he used a shoemaker's awl to move around the skull bones of the babies of enslaved women.
There is also, among others, a monument to legendary racist and erstwhile segregationist Strom Thurmond, whose re-election campaign was once co-chaired by Tim Scott. The monument was later updated to include the name of Thurmond’s biracial daughter by his then-teenage African-American housekeeper. I suppose it’s a testament of sorts to South Carolina that a fetus monument would barely stand out.
On March 11, 1993, Dr. David Gunn was shot three times in the back and killed outside his Pensacola, Florida clinic by an assassin who stepped out of a group of anti-abortion protesters. Days later, longtime Todd Akin associate Tim Dreste delivered a chilling message to St. Louis-area doctor Yogendra Shah. Dreste stood in front of his clinic with a sign that read “Dr. Shah, are you feeling under the Gunn?” – referring to the slain Florida doctor. We’ve obtained a short video recording of this infamous incident, which you can watch below.
Dreste would later be convicted of extortion on the basis of this incident and others that followed. U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones ruled in 1999 that Dreste “acted with malice…and with specific intent in threatening plaintiffs.”
Yet Todd Akin donated to Dreste’s long-shot campaign for the state house in October 1993, just months after Dreste threatened Dr. Shah. Very few others did so – Akin’s $200 contribution was Dreste’s 2nd largest individual contribution and made up 9% of his total donations.
Akin had known Dreste for the better part of a decade by then and would have known what he was supporting when he cut that check – the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later wrote:
Wearing a hat adorned with shotgun shells, Tim Dreste is a familiar sight among the anti-abortion protesters who regularly picket the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City.
Dreste was the talk of the anti-abortion and abortion-rights camps when, after the murder in 1993 of Dr. David Gunn in Florida, he carried a sign asking, "Do You Feel Under the Gunn?"
Akin and Dreste were both involved in the Pro-Life Direct Action League in the late 80s. Dreste – under orders from Operation Rescue’s Randall Terry – broke away in September 1988 and formed a more radical group, Whole Life Ministries. The following month, Akin appeared at one of the group’s events and described Dreste’s foot soldiers as “freedom fighters.” Days later, Akin was elected for the first time to public office.
In 1989, Akin intervened on behalf of one of Dreste’s protesters who had been convicted of assaulting a clinic worker. When Dreste launched the Life Chain of St. Louis in 1990, Akin signed on as an endorser and attended the event through the 90s and beyond. And when Dreste helped form a new militia group in 1995 – the 1st Missouri Volunteers – Akin signed on to support them as well.
Given what happened in 1993 and 1994, it’s both deeply revealing and disturbing that Akin continued to work with and support Dreste. In April 1994, Dreste co-founded a radical new anti-abortion group – the American Coalition of Life Activists – and met with Paul Hill. On July 30th, Paul Hill murdered Dr. John Bayard Britton, who replaced Dr. Gunn in Pensacola, as well as Britton's bodyguard.
Days later, Dreste appeared outside a St. Louis-area clinic with a sign reading “Abortionists 50 million, Babies 3.” He also contributed to Hill's legal fund, told a clinic worker, “I’m John Hill, you know my brother Paul,” and tried to terrorize doctors by passing out “wanted” posters outside their homes and clinics (similar posters were distributed before Gunn and Britton were murdered). Through all of this, Akin remained loyal to Dreste.
In December of 1994, Dreste helped launch the 1st Missouri Volunteers militia group, becoming its chaplain and captain. A couple months later, Akin appeared on fliers promoting the militia’s March 1995 rally. He didn’t attend due to “scheduling conflicts” and sent a letter of support instead, which was read aloud by a militiaman. Then on May 2nd, not even two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, Akin defended Dreste’s militia in the Springfield News-Leader, saying “there’s a lot of potential for good.” And their relationship didn’t end there.
To recap, Akin stuck with Dreste after he publicly threatened a doctor and condoned murder in 1993. And he stuck by his old protest buddy in 1995 even though the year before, Dreste:
met with a domestic terrorist who murdered two people three months later
condoned those murders and contributed to the killer’s legal fund
threatened doctors and clinic staff during his frequent protest appearances.
Akin sure is loyal! To be sure, Akin has tried his best to cover up his long ties to and support for Dreste. He's openly lied about his history with the 1st Missouri Volunteers, and his campaign just wants to change the subject. But the truth is slowly coming out, including his numerous arrests (four at last count!) and name switcheroo to conceal them. But if you judge a man by his actions, not his press releases, Akin has remained loyal to the bitter end.
In a meeting with the Des Moines Register editorial board yesterday, Gov. Mitt Romney stated, "There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” People For the American Way today is calling on Romney to clarify his position on a woman’s right to choose.
Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, said:
“Mitt Romney has promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and has even stated that women have no constitutional right to contraception. He supported the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to deny their employees any health benefit that they decide is immoral. He has promised to ‘get rid of’ Planned Parenthood. He has vowed to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, which jeopardizes women’s health programs abroad in order to appease anti-choice activists. Either Romney has changed his position on these issues, or he is lying about the content of his agenda. Either way, voters deserve to know the truth about Romney's anti-choice agenda.”
On Thursday, we released a video of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin telling an audience that he had once been arrested for blocking access to a reproductive health clinic. At a press conference the following day in Kansas City, Akin told the Associated Press that he had been arrested “about 25 years ago or so,” and a campaign aide “promised to provide details of the arrest later Friday.” But the campaign failed to come through.
Mike Huckabee and Paul Ryan have bothsupported “personhood” amendments, which would ban abortion in the case of rape or incest, among other things. But unlike Ryan, Huckabee has already had the opportunity to force others to live in accordance with his extreme beliefs. Ryan, who speaks shortly after Huckabee tonight at the RNC, is still waiting for his chance.
Huckabee makes no secret of his views on reproductive rights. He has denounced the “holocaust of liberalized abortion,” angering the Anti-Defamation League in the process, and he argued at a personhood fundraiser that pro-choice activists are really motivated by “profit from the sale of death.” He was raising cash, by the way, for an amendment that would have criminalized not only abortion but also in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, the treatment of ectopic pregnancies and some types of birth control.
Here’s what Huckabee did when he was in power. In August of 1996, not even a month into his governorship, he went to the mat to deny funding – $430 to be precise – for an abortion provided to a “15-year-old mentally retarded girl impregnated by her stepfather”:
In defiance of an order from a federal judge, Gov. Mike Huckabee on Friday refused to allow Medicaid to pay for the abortion of a 15-year-old girl whose stepfather has been charged with incest.
While federal law requires Medicaid to fund abortions for poor women in cases of rape or incest, Huckabee said through a spokesman his first obligation is to the Arkansas Constitution, which forbids public funds to be used for abortion except when the mother's life is in danger.
While Huckabee claimed his first obligation was to the Arkansas Constitution, he was either willfully ignoring, or unfamiliar with, the basics of federalism. Either way, his first obligation clearly was not to the U.S. Constitution or the 15-year-old girl, who thankfully underwent the procedure in advance of the standoff. Nor was it to the people of his state. As the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported, the standoff “appeared to put the entire state Medicaid program in jeopardy.”
Huckabee stuck to his guns as long as he could. As the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported, “U.S. Dist. Judge William Wilson entered into the record Thursday a ruling that Arkansas must pay for Medicaid abortions in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother, making the ruling official” and clearing the way for contempt charges for Huckabee. That never happened, as Huckabee agreed under pressure to the creation of a private trust to pay for such abortions.
The debate over reproductive choice can seem at times to be more theoretical than practical, but Huckabee's actions give us an idea of how a Religious Right America would look. So a 15-year-old mentally retarded girl was raped by her stepfather and got pregnant? Aw shucks, no abortion for her!
In an interview yesterday with Pittsburgh’s KDKA, Paul Ryan took the opportunity to stand behind his record of trying to force rape victims who get pregnant to give birth to their rapists’ children. Ryan, speaking with KDKA political editor Jon Delano, said he would follow the lead of Romney, who supports an exception for rape. But he made it clear that he doesn't personally support one.
Ryan’s record on reproductive rights is virtually identical to that of Todd “legitimate rape” Akin. Both oppose abortion in the case of rape, and the GOP platform committee yesterday reaffirmed this position on behalf of the entire party.
But still, you might have expected Ryan to back away from the issue during his first interview since Akin captured the spotlight. Nope, Ryan’s a true believer. Pregnant rape victims be damned:
Delano: “Should abortions to be available to women who are raped?”
Ryan: “Well, look, I’m proud of my pro-life record. And I stand by my pro-life record in Congress. It’s something I’m proud of. But Mitt Romney is the top of the ticket and Mitt Romney will be president and he will set the policy of the Romney administration.”
Delano: “Despite Ryan’s views, Romney says he will allow exceptions for rape and incest."
Delano: "Ryan says women won’t fall for these side issues."
Ryan: "And I don’t think they’re going to take the bait of all these distractions that the President is trying to throw at them."
Earlier today, Mitt Romney described Rep. Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape” as “insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong.” In a separate interview, Romney said, “I can't defend what he said, I can't defend him.”
Romney may not be able to defend Akin, but his running mate Paul Ryan knows some people who can. He’s set to headline next month’s Values Voter Summit alongside a who’s who of Akin defenders and endorsers.
The event’s chief sponsor, the Family Research Council, leapt to Akin’s defense. The group’s political action committee complained today that Akin was “getting a very bad break here” and pledged to “support him fully and completely.”
Speaking from the RNC platform committee meeting, FRC president Tony Perkins warned Sen. Scott Brown to back off from his criticism of Akin: “He has been off the reservation on a number of Republican issues, conservative issues I should say. His support among conservatives is very shallow.”
The American Family Association is another major sponsor. The group’s spokesperson, Bryan Fischer said that Akin was “absolutely right.” Continuing, he said that the trauma of a “real, genuine rape, a case of forcible rape” would make it impossible or difficult for a woman to conceive. Meanwhile, of the high-profile endorsers listed on Akin’s website, Mike Huckabee and Reps. Michele Bachmann, Steve King and Jim Jordan will be featured speakers at the Values Voter Summit.
While Akin himself has tried in various ways to distance himself from his own comments, his supporters at FRC, AFA, and elsewhere have enthusiastically embraced them. There is no doubt that they will use the Values Voter Summit to buttress their newly minted martyr.
The real question is whether the Romney campaign will have Ryan go ahead and headline the event. Ryan, who has previously sought to redefine rape and ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, would definitely fit in. But the problem is that he might fit in too well.