Cynthia L. Cooper

Ideology Should Not Play a Role in Reproductive Rights

ATLANTA -- Pro-choice activists braced for weeklong demonstrations in mid-July that were supposed to celebrate street actions staged here by the anti-choice group Operation Rescue 20 years ago.

Amanda Atwell, an intern with SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW! (formerly Georgians for Choice), kept in touch with the police about where protests were being organized by the Dallas-based Operation Save America, an offshoot group of Operation Rescue. A small group of other activists made pro-choice posters in a church basement in case counter demonstrations were called.

In the end, however, there wasn't much of a stir. About 120 protesters showed up, many wearing red T-shirts with slogans like "Abortion Is Murder," "Homosexuality Is a Sin," "Islam Is a Lie," "Feminism Is Rebellion." But their downtown rally didn't even disturb the meditative mood of the chess-playing regulars nearby.

Rev. Flip Benham of Texas, a key organizer of the demonstrations, held a press conference but no media showed up.

But the fizzle doesn't mean Atwell has no reason to be fired up about the status of reproductive justice in Atlanta, the city at the commercial and progressive heart of the South.

Atwell, a 22-year-old senior at Georgia State University, got sex education in a junior-high abstinence-only-until-marriage program in nearby Smyrna. "They were definitely trying to use scare tactics," she said. "They said that condoms couldn't be trusted because they had microscopic holes that were too big to prevent against HIV. My dad assured me it wasn't true."

Abstinence Class in 27 States

Georgia is among 27 states that continue to use abstinence-only programs, for which the federal government allocated $176 million in fiscal 2008, despite a congressionally mandated scientific review that found them ineffective in delaying sex. Georgia does permit its more than 180 school boards to choose "abstinence-plus" education, which may describe contraception.

Information is not the sole issue. Money is also a prime concern for Atwell, who is among the 22 percent of Georgia women of reproductive age -- and 18 percent nationally -- lacking health insurance.

At 17, she got a prescription for birth control pills, but at $42 per pack could only afford them for one month. When she began living with a boyfriend in college, she heard that the local Planned Parenthood had discounted pills and went there.

But that solution isn't available to every woman in the state.

Publicly funded family planning clinics in Georgia provide contraceptive care to 200,000 women, including 56,000 teens, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization in New York. But that helps less than half of the 490,000 women who need the services, Guttmacher estimates.

In its most recent analysis, the Guttmacher Institute found that 92 percent of Georgia counties had no abortion provider in 2005, compared to 87 percent of counties in the United States. Nearby Mississippi has only one abortion clinic.

In 1999 Georgia adopted one of the earliest and best laws on equitable insurance coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices. Twenty-six other states now have similar contraceptive equity laws.

D-Grades for Reproductive Rights

But as of January 2008, the Washington-based abortion rights lobby NARAL Pro-Choice America marked Georgia with "D" on its state report card. The nation as a whole earned a D-minus.

"What's really changed in the past 10 years is the political landscape," said Nancy Boothe, executive director of the Atlanta Feminist Women's Health Center.

Since 2000 the state's political leadership has shifted to the right. The governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house are all Republicans endorsed by Georgia Right to Life. Majorities in both houses of the state legislature are anti-choice, as are both Republican U.S. senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.

A law passed four years ago requires women to undergo 24-hour waiting periods before an abortion, "which affects their comfort level and ability to access care," said Boothe, whose clinic provides 3,400 abortions each year, along with an array of other services to 6,000 women, including special gynecological care for refugees, transgender people and rape survivors.

Other Georgia restrictions require clinicians to read women a script designed to discourage abortion, notify parents about a minor's abortion and offer fetal image viewing if their facility uses ultrasound. A refusal clause favored by anti-choice groups permits medical personnel to refuse to provide reproductive services.

"We're a blue city in a red state," said Loretta J. Ross, national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective that operates from a restored mansion in Atlanta's West End. "But reproductive health is not decided by the city. Outside the city limits, it's redneck hell."

Atlanta Hospital Closed

The most recent devastation to city services occurred in April, when the state legislature insisted that abortion services be eliminated at the city's public hospital, Grady Memorial, before it agreed to bail out the financially troubled institution. "You're looking at services for poor, black and increasingly Latino populations. You can't ignore racial politics in the South," Ross said.

Nationally, state legislatures have been flooded with thousands of proposals intended to limit abortion access. From 2000 to 2007, 293 abortion restrictions have been enacted across the country, according to NARAL.

Pro-choice Georgians did manage to block a legislative attempt in 2007 to get a "personhood" ballot measure, asking voters to declare that life begins at conception, considered a tactic for instituting complete abortion bans.

Georgia records about 34,000 abortions each year, or 16 abortions per 1,000 women, compared to 19 per 1,000 women nationwide.

Kay Scott, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Georgia, which operates five health centers in the state, one of which offers abortion, is most concerned about the lack of basic resources.

In June, a report by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Georgia 40th among the states on 10 key children's indicators. Georgia ranked seventh worst in low-birth-weight pregnancies, eighth worst in teen pregnancies, ninth worst in infant mortality and 10th worst in high school dropouts.

"Our profile is really poor in how we do health care and what we do in education," said Scott. "For a state that prides itself on being the real powerhouse of the South, a more progressive state of the South, our policies and resources are not utilized in a way that reflects that. The problem in these conservative states is some of the focus is on being the sex police. We've not come together to say that every child should be planned for and wanted."

Ideology is making broadly popular goals such as reducing teen pregnancy harder to achieve, said Michele Ozumba, president of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, founded by Jane Fonda.

In both Georgia and across the nation, teen pregnancies rose by 3 percent in 2006, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. "Reproductive health is in the back of the bus as a priority," said Ozumba. "We need to remove the politics."

Copyright 2008 Women's eNews. All Rights Reserved.

The Medical Right Wants to Deny You Health Care

This article was originally published on the website of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. You can read more about the right-wing assault on medicine here.

The Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA) is pressing a major campaign to demand that physicians be permitted to refuse medical care to patients. The organization has made this campaign a centerpiece of its activities.

In the past three months, the organization has launched a fundraising drive on the rights of Christian doctors to refuse to provide services, a special edition newsletter, a website collection of resources and documents, a survey of members, a letter-writing campaign , and requests for prayers.

Dr. David L. Stevens, the organization's CEO, said on April 17, 2008, that CMDA is making physician refusals a top priority, based on its Biblical beliefs. The issue, said Stevens, is "a battle to determine the very future of Christians in healthcare."

CMDA is a behemoth among the medical groups aligned with the Religious Right, which the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) terms the "Medical Right." With an annual budget in excess of $11 million, CMDA operates an extensive complex in Bristol, Tennessee, and maintains an office in the Washington D.C. area. The organization claims to have 15,000 members, although not all are doctors. Its mission is to equip physicians to glorify God, influence patients towards "a right relationship with Jesus Christ," and advance "Biblical principles" in healthcare.

The organization has been particularly incensed by a November 2007 report from the Ethics Committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The ACOG report acknowledges that some doctors may ethically decline to provide abortions based on their beliefs or conscience but states that doctors are responsible for referring their patients to a provider who will perform the services.

CMDA opposes abortion and insists that referring patients for abortions is no different from performing them. "Though our members would comply with a request for transfer of a patient's medical record to another licensed medical practitioner, to refer a patient for an abortion involves moral complicity in the death of a human being," Stevens wrote in a letter to ACOG on April 9.

The April 17 CMDA "News & Views" newsletter notes that ACOG may "redo" the ethics opinion. But Gene Rudd, senior vice president of CMDA, said that the only acceptable ACOG response is a complete retraction.

"There is no way they can satisfy many people, including myself, if they want to compromise conscience," Rudd said.

In a press release, Rudd said he resigned from ACOG after the ethics opinion was released.

Using catastrophic language and heightened demands, Stevens sent a fundraising letter to CMDA members, declaring: "A dangerous new attack has been launched on our right to practice medicine according to conscience." He said: struggle for our 'right of conscience' is raging all around us -- and if we lose it, we may be denied admittance to training schools or even forced out of practice!" (as printed) Later, he adds, "Hyperbole? I wish it were."

CMDA said it intends to litigate, even to the Supreme Court, and to be "the ones framing the issues rather than those who seek to silence us."

Stevens also claims that Christians in general are at risk: "Christian doctors are the first line of defense in this battle. If we are ultimately stripped of a protection … then this right will soon be under attack in other professions, in our schools, and even in your church and mine!" So dire is the situation, he said, that "fundamental rights such as our freedom of speech will also fall like dominoes."

Jonathan Imbody, CMDA vice president for government relations, raised an implicit comparison between ACOG and Nazism in the April 7, 2008, CMDA newsletter. He quoted Pastor Martin Niemoller about the perils of not responding quickly to Nazi perils.

Imbody writes: "The worldview underlying the … words of ACOG is radical autonomy - a worldview that trumps the Scriptures, the Hippocratic Oath and any other objective standard conflicting with self-rule." Imbody insists: "Apart from a change of worldview -- a departure from radical autonomy and a return to objective ethical standards - ACOG can be expected to continue to elevate abortion autonomy over all rights."

The CMDA resource center includes a March 14, 2008, letter from 16 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including five who signed as medical doctors and Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), the head of the pro-life caucus in the House. In it, the representatives object to the ACOG ethics opinion, which, they say, could result in decertification of pro-life physicians. "(P)ro-life women would lose the right to choose OB-GYNs who share their moral convictions," they assert.

In February, CMDA sent a survey to its physician members, asking whether they had "been pressured to compromise your Biblical or ethical convictions" or been denied an opportunity because of a "right of conscience stand." CMDA says that it intends to use the stories to publicize the cause of doctors who face difficulties because of their religious convictions.

This intensified lobbying and public relations campaign is in addition to involvement in litigation. CMDA filed papers to intervene in litigation on the Weldon Amendment, which permits the federal government to withhold funds from entities that do not permit physicians to refuse to perform or refer for abortions (see below).

In 2007, CMDA also filed two briefs in pending cases that have issues of medical refusals on reproductive healthcare. One supports the refusal of two California doctors to perform artificial insemination on a lesbian patient; the other is on behalf of pharmacists in Illinois who oppose a rule requiring them to fill all legal prescriptions, including for emergency contraception.

Decision in Weldon Amendment Lawsuit
Does Not Require Religious or Moral Basis for Refusals

A little-noticed ruling from a federal district court in San Francisco could have a critical effect on the operation of state refusal clauses. In the ruling on March 18, 2008, the court turned down a challenge to a national medical refusal provision known as the Weldon Amendment and left the clause standing unimpeded. The decision by Bush appointee Judge Jeffrey S. White of the northern district of California ended litigation brought by former California Attorney General Bill Lockyer in 2005.

The Weldon Amendment states that the U.S. government may withhold federal funds from any federal, state or local entity that does not permit medical institutions or doctors to refuse to provide abortions or refer for them. After Congress failed to pass a separate bill with the same language, Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), aided by the Bush Administration, slipped the proviso into a 3,500-page omnibus spending bill for the year 2005. It has been continued every year since.

California argued that the Weldon Amendment conflicted with state law requiring medical providers to deliver all services, including abortion, in the event of an emergency. Officials said the Weldon Amendment could cost California $37 billion if the state were to enforce its own law and lose federal funds as a result. The state also argued that the clause created an undue obstacle to women's exercise of their constitutional rights to legal abortion services.

Three years after the lawsuit was filed, Judge White dispensed with the state's claim on a summary judgment motion, saying that no one had been harmed in California because of the Weldon Amendment, nor had the state lost any money. As a result, the judge said, the matter was premature for a decision by the courts and lacked "ripeness."

The result is to leave the Weldon Amendment in full force. The language of the Weldon Amendment states that it is "discrimination" to take action against medical personnel or institutions that refuse to provide abortion care or referrals, or that refuse to pay or cover them, for example, in insurance programs.

Unlike another federal provision, the Church Amendment, which allows doctors to refuse to provide abortion because of religious or moral beliefs, no religious or moral basis is required for refusals to be considered discrimination under the Weldon Amendment. To many observers, the language was seen as radical expansion of refusal clauses.

Previously, a federal court in the District of Columbia dismissed an action brought by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, saying that it lacked standing to bring a claim. That decision was upheld by an appellate court in 2006.

Although the California judge's decision is on strictly procedural grounds, Medical Right organizations have been celebrating the ruling. Several Medical Right groups had become formal intervenors in the matter, permitting them to participate on an equal footing with the state and federal government. The intervenors included the Christian Medical Association, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Alliance of Catholic Health Care.

On a more serious level, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt referenced the Weldon Amendment when he wrote to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), objecting to an ethical opinion that said doctors who decline to provide abortions should refer the patients. Organizations representing anti-abortion doctors objected vehemently to the statement that doctors who would not perform abortions should refer patients to doctors who would do so. Leavitt said that any disciplinary action against doctors who refuse to refer patients could result in a loss of federal funding.

Leavitt wrote: "As you know, Congress has protected the rights of physicians and other health care professionals by (two laws and) … annually renewing an appropriations rider that protect(s) the rights, including conscience rights, of health care professionals in programs or facilities conducted or supported by federal funds."

States that have more restrictive medical-refusal laws than the Weldon Amendment can expect ongoing pressure to buckle to federal government demands and refuse to enforce their own state laws, or face a loss of federal funding.

Family Planners Stand Up To Right-Wing Boycott

When Planned Parenthood of Waco-Central Texas held its 16th annual "Nobody's Fool" earlier this week, John Pisciotta was there.

In a press conference Pisciotta told reporters that the voluntary sex-education program open to area youth and endorsed by dozens of local businesses and churches was immoral, because it teaches about contraception, sexual issues and sexually transmitted diseases instead of abstinence-only lessons.

"The theme is to expose Planned Parenthood for their agenda of 'anything goes' sexuality, which is quite well-revealed on their Teen Wire Web site," said Pisciotta, co-director of Pro-Life Waco.

Waco's Pisciotta -- who last year instigated a boycott of Girl Scout cookies to force the girls' organization to drop its endorsement of the Planned Parenthood teen-education program -- is part of a concerted push to derail Planned Parenthood, a federation of 122 local and state affiliates that operate over 800 clinics nationwide, providing contraception, gynecological care, and, at some locations, abortion services.

Dating to the 1980s -- when it began with anti-abortion protests at women's health care clinics -- the campaign against Planned Parenthood is now waged on many other fronts as well: legislative attacks on government funding, organized boycotts of sponsors, challenges to corporate supporters and vocal opposition to sex-education programs. While dozens of groups spread and magnify opposition to the 84-year-old Planned Parenthood, two national organizations -- Life Decisions International, and STOPP International -- provide full-time leadership.

Boycott List of Corporate Donors

With an annual budget of approximately $110,000, Douglas R. Scott, Life Decisions' president, and his staff of three, research and publish "The Boycott List" of companies -- usually about 50 or 60 in number -- that donate to Planned Parenthood. Approximately 10,000 copies of the $15.75 list are distributed twice a year, including to 33 anti-abortion organizations that endorse it, ranging from Human Life International to Concerned Women for America, Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, American Family Association and Traditional Values Coalition.

"We're educating people about what companies give to Planned Parenthood so that people who are on our side may choose not to support those companies," said Scott in an interview.

According to a March press release, current boycott targets include Adobe Systems, Bank of America, Johnson and Johnson, Kenneth Cole, Levi Strauss, Nationwide Insurance, Prudential, Unilever, Wachovia, Whole Foods and Walt Disney. Walt Disney is listed because its theme park gave a donation to Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando to prevent teen pregnancy, according to a Life Decisions newsletter.

Life Decisions -- which Scott describes as being based in northern Virginia -- also introduces resolutions at annual meetings of corporate shareholders designed to end corporate donations to Planned Parenthood. Thomas Strohbar, Life Decisions board chair and the head of Pro Vita Advisors, an anti-choice investment firm in Dayton, Ohio, spearheads this effort, which he claims is going well.

"Quite a few are no longer giving," said Strohbar, citing an American Express decision to stop giving donations to Planned Parenthood, which he said followed closely on the heels of his shareowner proposal in 1999. In a January 2004 press release, Life Decisions claimed similar victories at A.T. and T., General Mills and Target.

The release made special mention of the 2003 decision by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment firm in Omaha made famous by founder Warren Buffet, to end corporate donations to the Buffet Foundation, a generous funder to pro-choice organizations. Scott claims that 116 companies have withdrawn Planned Parenthood support, pulling $35 million in funds away from the organization.

Privately Scott says it's more about rallying anti-abortion forces than the money. "Planned Parenthood has nearly $300 million dollars in savings in reserve, so they're not lacking in money; they just don't like a public black eye," said Scott.

Bucking the Boycott

Some companies, instead of bowing to Life Decisions, buck the pressure. The March-April issue of Life Decisions' bimonthly newsletter, "The Caleb Report," contains the text of a phone message attributed to a Richmond, Va., businessman who apparently didn't appreciate being warned that his company's name will go on the boycott list. "I will not be threatened by scumbags like you. I will not stop supporting Planned Parenthood," the message said.

Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York, confirms that some companies are resisting the Life Decisions pressure. "One corporation heard about another corporation turning us down and was so outraged that they, in turn, donated what we had asked the other corporation for," Pearl said.

Nationally, Pearl says, Planned Parenthood retains a high level of public support. She said that a phone survey conducted in February 2004 by Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates of 800 homes found a favorability response of 70 percent by women and 61 percent by men. "That's higher than Congress, higher than the president," said Pearl.

STOPP, the other thorn in Planned Parenthood's side, is a division of the anti-abortion, anti-contraception American Life League in Stafford, Va., which has a $7 million annual budget. STOPP -- short for Stop Planned Parenthood -- organizes actions to "defeat" Planned Parenthood.

David Bereit, STOPP's new national director, plans to train local community members to oppose Planned Parenthood, as he did in Bryan-College Station, Texas, where, he says, he coordinated 60 churches and 3,000 people to remove Planned Parenthood's education program from schools and reduce abortions at a local clinic by more than 15 percent.

"We laid down a challenge to Planned Parenthood. 'If you cease doing surgical abortions, if you get out of our schools, and if you cease taking tax money, we will stop opposing you,'" he said. "Now, Planned Parenthood isn't going to do that, is it?" he said.

The group publishes a chart of Planned Parenthood clinics where abortions are performed, as well as "The Ryan Report," a monthly newsletter detailing Planned Parenthood activities and local opposition.

Looking for Financial Weakness

Bereirt researches IRS documents of local Planned Parenthood affiliates, hoping to identify those that are weak financially. "If there are active efforts in those towns, those are places where we could have an impact," he said.

STOPP also pushes state legislation to stop any governmental funds from reaching Planned Parenthood affiliates. Nationally, approximately one-third of Planned Parenthood's services are supported by government funding, usually for contraception or health care services for low-income women (abortion is not covered).

"We're trying to get states to deny funds to organizations that refer for or provide abortions, or, other approaches, such as in Ohio, by passing a law that first funds state agencies (for family planning services) and, as a result, eats up all the funds," said Bereit.

In some cases, they've succeeded. Pearl says it all depends on where they try it. "Our history is one of fighting the opposition," she says. "They keep changing their tactics, but we must remain resolute in what we do."

The Contraception Museum

Sheep intestines fashioned into a condom; crocodile dung with acidic properties for vaginal insertion; and hundreds of metal and plastic swirls, squiggles, loops and bows that form various intrauterine devices are some of the artifacts in the 11 display cases in the History of Contraception Museum in Cleveland, the nation's only museum dedicated to the world of birth control.

The museum was quietly inaugurated into the Dittrick Medical History Center of Case Western Reserve University with a March opening reception. The museum had been under consideration as a site since 2003.

"It's pretty amazing. You can tell there was a lot of struggle through time to prevent pregnancy and people would try anything they could get their hands on," said dental student Mark McCormick, who gazed into the display cases with the only other visitor, his father-in-law, a salesman of medical supplies from Utah.

The contraceptive exhibit was donated by Percy Skuy, past president of Ortho Pharmaceutical (Canada), maker of contraceptive products and pills, who began building the collection 40 years ago as what began as a trade show novelty.

Now retired and living in Toronto, Skuy is still on the lookout for new items to add to the display

While called a museum, the contraception collection is contained in 11 handsomely-designed cabinets that, at present, snake around in an oval, allowing viewers to circulate around and view its contents, including a video, artifacts and minimal textual explanations. Contained within the 1920s university building that houses the medical museum, a separate room is being fitted to house the contraception display in an area adjacent to a re-created 1930 pharmacy and an 1870 doctor's office, complete with a skeleton in a closet.

Not Yet a Major Attraction

So far, the museum is hardly a tourist attraction to rival the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which is a mere five miles away.

"I've never heard of such a thing," said an operator for 10 years at the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland.

The collection of ingenious products to prevent pregnancy extends to cervical caps, diaphragms, sponges, amulets and condoms of all sorts, from the manufactured to the homemade candy wrapper and saran wrap.

"These are intimate articles. People don't tend to save them, and for that reason, they are extremely rare," said James Edmonson, chief curator of the Dittrick Medical History Museum, who says that he wants to continue to refine the museum to add retrospective social context and descriptions to the items.

The exhibit and its 650 artifacts--ranging from beaver-testical tea believed to prevent pregnancy to tiny pills in circle packaging--may serve as a reminder to U.S. politicians that the 93 percent of U.S. women who are at risk of pregnancy and who use contraception have plenty of historical precedent.

"Some of the American political debate comes from an absence of appreciation of this long, long history of contraception practice across the globe," said Andrea Tone, a professor in the social studies of medicine at McGill University in Montreal and an advisor to the museum. She also has written a book about contraception, "Devices and Desires," published in 2001. "American society still has to come to terms with sexuality and women's sexuality and the possibilities of a society that doesn't think twice about their rights to safe, quality and affordable birth control."

Skuy added: "If people think no one should use contraception, they are entitled to their opinion. But this is the history, this is what people did."

The history, he said, shows not only technique and motivation, but attitude. "The political struggle manifests itself," he says. "When we consider how this has now become an everyday item, the answers should come through better education, better use of the products, not negative legislation."

Controversial Times

The museum emerges in a time of intense controversy over contraception.

In March, the same month that the museum opened, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive health issues, reported a high level of hostility to reproductive health rights in Congress and state legislatures and potential harm to contraceptive services from proposed cuts in Medicaid.

"You can count on some attack on family planning in Congress and something you didn't expect," Adam Sonfield, a public policy associate with the Institute's Washington, D.C., office, said.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 16 million sexually active women rely upon two publicly funded programs--Medicaid or Title X of the Public Health Service Act--for contraceptive services. These include nearly 700,000 in Ohio alone.

Medicaid funding could take the brunt of a $20 billion cut in domestic programs in the budget plan submitted by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in April. Even a 1 percent loss in family planning funding would affect tens of thousands of women, reported Guttmacher.

Although Senate Democrats are countering with a proposal to add $100 million for family planning programs, Guttmacher's Sonfield considers its passage unlikely.

The collection includes a series of pessaries, which are substances or devices inserted into the vagina to inhibit sperm. Some look like large brass tacks and corkscrews. References in the accompanying text say a block-shaped pessary was once described as an "instrument of torture."

Home-crafted solutions, usually discovered when doctors in decades past were called to extract them, include a whiskey glass and teapot top.

Advice from Casanova

Casanova, the famous Italian 18th century libertine, reportedly recommended that his lovers insert a half-lemon with the juice extracted as a cervix cover.

Text dating to 1580 B.C. suggests grinding dates, acacia and honey to coat the vulva. The Biblical description of "spilling seed," or withdrawal, has its place as do items for trying to find the rhythm in the method of measuring safe periods for copulation without conception.

The pill, now 44 years old, is featured in a case of its own, showing its dial-a-pill and other formulations.

The packaging of hormonal birth control pills, unique to pharmaceutical products, is a source of special fascination to Skuy, the originator of the collection. He explained that originally it was important for women to take the right pill on the right day or right part of their cycle. This was new to pill usage, he said, so packages were designed to connect to the calendar and help women keep track of each day's use.

Skuy says he has never encountered protests to the exhibit during his years of displaying them at pharmaceutical conventions.

Tone, however, reports that the late curator of a Smithsonian exhibit in Washington received hundreds of complaining letters only five years ago about the mere inclusion of the birth control pill among 20th century inventions.

Permanent placement of the museum in Cleveland arrives just in time for the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut. Faced with state laws making it a crime to use or dispense contraception, the court in 1965 ruled for the first time that a right to privacy prevents arrests for the use of contraception.

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, a Washington-D.C. advocacy association of family planning clinics, will mark the occasion with a forum on legal access to birth control on Capitol Hill on June 6.

Battle for Choice Rages Through States

In Michigan, the legislative session had only been open a matter of hours on Jan. 12 before Rebekah Warren, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Michigan, was wrangling with the first anti-choice bill, a proposal to ban embryonic stem cell research.

"Michigan has one of the most active and best funded right-to-life movements," said Warren. "Things start here. We see bills introduced in Michigan popping up later around the country."

One law enacted in Michigan last year, despite a veto by the governor, redefines the time of "legal birth" – formerly considered to be when a healthy infant is brought into the world – to a fetal stage. As a result, abortions in the first eight weeks of pregnancy could be prosecuted as homicide, legal experts have told Women's eNews.

On March 1, three national pro-choice legal organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court in Michigan, asking the court to strike down the law, scheduled to take effect on March 30. The groups – the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, all based in New York – argue that the law is unconstitutional because it fails to protect women's health and encroaches on a woman's right to make a decision about an abortion even in the first trimester.

Merging on Virginia Capital

Early last month in Virginia, meanwhile, 300 people, decked out with orange neon "pro-family, pro-choice" stickers and handmade signs, joined the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition and converged on the state capital of Richmond on Feb 3.

Inside committee rooms and outside on the streets, they declared their opposition to proposals by state legislators that will further thwart women's reproductive choices.

"There were especially a lot of young people from all over the state. It was astonishing," said Marjorie Signer, legislative vice president of Virginia NOW, which joined in the day of pro-choice lobbying.

As these pro-choice lobbyists looked on, one committee rejected a bill that would jeopardize the operation of abortion clinics by requiring expensive and unnecessary physical modifications. Two other bills on the same topic were later defeated, as well.

Deluge of Anti-Choice Proposals

Across the states, pro-choice activists are fighting against a deluge of anti-abortion proposals.

As of Feb. 1, 100 pieces of anti-choice legislation had already been introduced in the states, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy organization in New York. In 2004, 714 anti-choice bills were proposed in the states and 29 were enacted, according to a January report by NARAL Pro-Choice America, based in Washington, D.C.

"There are people who don't accept a legal right to abortion and want to make it more difficult for people to access safe, quality care," said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the pro-choice National Abortion Federation, a national association of abortion providers that monitors state activities. "Each year, they try to pass legislation to restrict or undermine women's right to choose."

This year, states are witnessing a number of new anti-choice proposals that would give a fetus "personhood" rights equal to those of a living child or that require women undergoing an abortion to accede to a separate injection of anesthesia for the fetus or, alternatively, to sign a statement that a fetus feels pain, a point that lacks consensus among medical experts.

In Montana, an anti-abortion bill was introduced requiring death certificates for fetuses. In North Dakota, a proposal states that a woman who takes the "abortion pill," can be prosecuted for murder. (The proposal refers to mifepristone, which is marketed as Mifeprex and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.)

A bill in South Dakota would make all abortions illegal unless a woman faces severe health risks or her life is in danger.

"The way this is happening across the country, I think it's pretty scary, actually," said Warren, the activist from Michigan.

States Are New Legal Battleground

Anti-choice proposals began spreading through state legislatures after 1992 when the U.S. Supreme Court permitted states wide discretion to regulate abortion, without completely outlawing it.

Between 1995 and 2004, states enacted 409 anti-choice legislative measures, according to NARAL.

In some states today, women must wait 24 hours to get an abortion, teens may have to tell their parents and doctors and clinicians and hospitals may refuse to provide abortions.

These barriers at the state level have been reinforced by efforts to pass restrictions on abortion that extend to all U.S. citizens. Two years ago, the U.S. Congress passed a federal abortion ban on abortions in the second and third trimesters, but the law has been stopped from going into effect by the rulings of three federal courts that found it to be unconstitutional. The Bush administration is now appealing those decisions.

The five most-common targets of current anti-choice legislation, said NARAL, are: restricting teenager access; requiring the delivery of negative literature to a woman seeking an abortion and applying a waiting period; subjecting abortion facilities to onerous regulations; promoting abstinence-only education and approving the refusal of reproductive health care.

Instant Outrage in Virginia

One 2005 proposal in Virginia caused instant outrage. The bill would have subjected women to arrest for not reporting a miscarriage or other "fetal death" to the local police within 12 hours. After an internet alert by Democracy for Virginia, a group of activists who first coalesced to campaign for Howard Dean, thousands of women, including those who had suffered miscarriages, sent e-mail messages to bill sponsor John Cosgrove. Cosgrove withdrew the bill, saying its intention was misunderstood. (He said the bill was intended to apply to situations of "full-term babies who were abandoned shortly after birth" and not miscarriages.)

Also stopped in its tracks was a proposal by Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall to make the gynecological procedure of menstrual extraction, a low-tech method of removing shedding menstrual tissue directly from the uterus, into a felony unless a pregnancy test were conducted first. Other of Marshall's ideas, including one subjecting colleges to potential lawsuits for distributing emergency contraception, were also sidelined by the time the legislative session ended on Feb. 28, according to Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced in Kansas could affect women with difficult pregnancies throughout the country. Because third-trimester abortions are illegal or inaccessible in a majority of states, many women with life and health-endangering conditions travel to Wichita, where Dr. George Tiller operates one of the few clinics that can help them. The proposed law would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks except at hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers. The proposal threatens Tiller's practice, said Julie Burkhart, executive director of ProKanDo, a political action committee founded by Tiller.

"I think about how many women will be affected and how abortion and reproductive rights save women's lives," said Burkhart, who lobbies against the legislation daily. "That's what keeps me going."

Pro-choice activists are fighting a similar law passed last year in Texas, where other anti-choice bills are also up for debate. One would permit pharmacists to refuse women's prescriptions for birth-control pills or emergency contraception. Another would make it harder for young women to get abortions by restricting how judges hear petitions from them, if parental notification – required in Texas – is impossible.

By rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, minors who do feel that they cannot safely tell their parents about a pregnancy are entitled to seek a "judicial bypass," by which a judge can confidentially approve their request for an abortion. The new proposal would add reporting requirements for judges and would identify those who grant judicial bypasses and the circumstances of the cases before them.

Three Giant Steps Backward

In a moment of morning-after madness, politicos within the Democratic Party are taking three giant steps backward from a woman's right to choose. The results could be disastrous for progressive women's political base.

Much of the drama is emerging around the normally staid contest for the chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which will be decided by 447 electors on Feb. 12 at a DNC vote in Washington, D.C. All of the candidates for the position now held by Clinton-ally Terry McAuliffe are men, a large number of whom who are using Lincoln's birthday as the opportunity to distance themselves from reproductive freedom. This comes at the time of greatest peril, when one or two anti-abortion appointments to the Supreme Court could upend the right to privacy protected by Roe v. Wade.

"What are we," asks Eleanor Smeal, president and founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation, "fair-weather friends?" Apparently so.

"We fought like mad to beat back the Republicans," blogged Karen M. White, national political director for EMILY's List, a pro-choice Democratic fundraising machine. "Little did we know that we would have just as much to fear from some within the Democratic Party who seem to be using choice as a scapegoat for our top-of-the-ticket losses."

One of the favored candidates for the DNC chair is former Indiana Rep. Timothy Roemer, who has never found an anti-abortion measure that he didn't like. In his campaign for the position, he called Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to sweet-talk her, arguing that because he was victorious in a "red" state, he'd be a great leader for the Dems. The implication is party first, women second. Feldt didn't buy it. She called upon Democrats to uphold a commitment to "women's rights and health." NARAL Pro-Choice America also announced a national campaign to defeat Roemer.

But Roemer is not without fans in high places. They include Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the pro-choice leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives. And her enthusiasm is shared by her newly selected Senate counterpart, the anti-abortion Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.

But the cruelest cut may be closer to the heart. Pro-choice former presidential candidate Howard Dean is also a contender for the DNC chair. He alarmed pro-choice activists by stating that the Democratic Party needed to be more "inclusive" of pro-lifers.

Other lesser-knowns are in the mix. For a short while Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, flirted with running for DNC chair. Also aspiring to the position are former Texas Rep. Martin Frost, former Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Leland, party activist Donnie Fowler, former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, and Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network. Rosenberg also declared that he is "open to pro-lifers," according to an article in The American Spectator.

The irony is that pro-choice voters are a powerful base in the Democratic Party. More women (51 percent to 48 percent) voted for Kerry over Bush, according to polling by Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates. And despite the oft-repeated declaration that "moral values" swayed voters, further analysis shows that Iraq, terror and the economy were the driving issues for over 70 percent.

In the post-election atmosphere, everyone is positioning. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) called for the Democratic Party to hold fast to a woman's right to choose. But Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) took a surprising turn, praising chastity education, asserting that abortion represents a "sad, even tragic, choice," calling for "common ground" with pro-lifers.

The top gun himself may have started the rampage. During the election, Sen. John Kerry did such a lousy job of articulating his position that even campaign volunteers didn't know he was pro-choice. Soon after he lost, Kerry told a group of progressives that Democrats should be permitted more latitude in supporting the anti-abortion line.

It seems as though these guys don't want to take the rap for their losses – a familiar scenario to multitudes of women: A guy loses a fight in a bar, bumbles home and decides to take it out on his girlfriend instead.

Democrats are counting on the notion that women have nowhere else to go. The Greens are wooing women, and even pro-choice Republicans stuck with a hostile anti-abortion platform are gloating, arguing that pro-choice gals who left might as well come back. Fond memories are floated of the suffragists' National Women's Party. But there are few shelters for this type of domestic political violence.

Activists know the radical right isn't interested in "common ground," but rather the obliteration of sexual and individual liberties. If anything were to brand Democrats as losers, the post-election behavior toward women's rights just might do it.

The Third Time Is the Charm?

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf of Nebraska issued an opinion declaring that a federal law attempting to ban abortion is unconstitutional and blocked the law from taking effect.

He is the third of three federal judges from three parts of the country holding three separate trials to reach the same conclusion: that a federal ban on abortion passed by Congress and signed by President George Bush in 2003 cannot stand up against the constitutional rights of women to make their own medical decisions about abortion without the interference of the government.

At a minimum, the judges said, the law cannot endanger the health of women who need an abortion by threatening their doctors with arrest for using their best medical judgment.

"The Attorney General cannot enforce this ban. It's a goner," said Priscilla Smith, director of domestic litigation at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the law in Nebraska federal court.

Ban Leads to Public Confusion

The ban could have had broad national impact on doctors and other health providers in every state. In order to assure that medical personnel would have the widest possible protection from arrest, pro-choice lawyers developed a strategy of challenging in three different federal courts the law that barred common abortion procedures performed after the 12th week of a pregnancy.

The case in Nebraska was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of four doctors, including Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who previously challenged the state law in Nebraska, taking it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Reproductive Freedom Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP filed the case in New York on behalf of the National Abortion Federation, a Washington D.C. association of abortion clinics, and other doctors. Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Golden Gate brought the action in California, on behalf of all Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Women's health and legal experts say that the federal law barring so-called partial birth abortions represents a long-standing campaign by the National Right to Life Committee to challenge women's right to choose through restrictive legal measures combined with expansive and often misleading rhetoric aimed at increasing public opinion against abortion. In the instance of "partial-birth abortion," the rhetoric did not reflect how the law would actually affect women, leading to much public confusion.

Signed into law by President George W. Bush in November 2003, the legislation attempted to overturn a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, which rejected similar state laws.

In that case, known as Stenberg v. Carhart, the nation's highest court found that Nebraska's so-called partial birth abortion law impermissibly endangered a woman's health. It also said the law was too broad, extending to many types of abortion practices after the 12th week of pregnancy, and not simply to "late-term" abortions, as is often mistakenly believed.

But Congress continued to pursue a federal ban, ignoring and even attempting to overrule the Supreme Court.

In this most recent round of court challenges, all three federal judges responded vigorously, even though they had differing perceptions of the medical procedure at hand.

Judge Kopf issued a 474-page opinion, responding to Congressional claims that an earlier opinion he wrote was thin on reasoning. His opinion begins with a quotation from a PBS television broadcast, describing the "tiny passageway" of the cervix, which must widen so greatly to permit the passage of a fetus. The surgical process that the law bans deals with this very real biological fact, Judge Kopf noted.

"While the procedure is infrequently used as a relative matter, when it is needed, the health of women frequently hangs in the balance," he said.

Judge Kopf found that the law is unconstitutional because it lacks a health exception, bans abortions prior to viability, and that, as a law that subjects people to arrest, is too vague. Unlike the other judges, Judge Kopf only barred enforcement of the law when it applies to fetuses prior to viability and declined to apply the decision to viable fetuses.

Disparity Between Rhetoric and Reality

Framing the judgment in this way underscores the disparity between the rhetoric and the reality of the law. Despite constant references to "late term" abortions, almost no post-viability abortions (after approximately 24 weeks) are performed in the United States, and the Supreme Court said 30 years ago that states could even ban post-viability abortions as long as there were protections for a woman's life and health.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Conway Casey in New York, for whom the ban's supporters held out the strongest hope of courtroom success, was highly critical of Congress, stating that it acted unreasonably.

"Congress's fact findings were not reasonable and based on substantial evidence," wrote Judge Casey in his August 26 opinion. Judge Casey was stern with abortion providers in court and described abortion procedures in disparaging terms.

The most expansive decision was released by Judge Phyllis Hamilton in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on June 1. In a 117-page decision, she broadened the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, finding that the federal ban placed an unconstitutional burden on women's right to choose abortion before viability.

"Congress' grossly misleading and inaccurate language appears to have been intentional. Congress was aware that the act as written applied to pre-viable fetuses," she wrote.

Hamilton has been criticized by anti-choice groups. One conservative online organization called for her impeachment as a judge and refers to her as "butcher of the bench."

The Justice Department has already appealed the decision in San Francisco. Following the most recent defeat, it issued a statement that President Bush "pledged that 'the executive branch will vigorously defend this law.'"

Attorney General John Ashcroft "will continue to defend the law to protect innocent new life from partial birth abortion," the statement added. The passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is listed in the Republican Party platform as one of the successes of the Bush administration.

Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, co-chair of the pro-choice caucus, praised the recent decision of Judge Kopf.

"Sadly, right-wing ideology often determines what legislation is considered by Congress – not the Constitution or, more simply, common sense," she said.

Appeal Might Mimic Federal District Courts

If the Justice Department decides to appeal the New York and Kansas cases as well, the circuit courts of appeals will probably fall in step with the federal district courts and reject the law. If President Bush is not reelected this November or does not reappoint Ashcroft, a new Attorney General could drop the appeals altogether.

Although media reports often say that the issue is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the court need not accept it. Judicial observers believe that the court would not do so because it has already ruled on the substance of the issue.

But both pro-choice and anti-choice groups point to the issue as highlighting the importance of the naming of new justices to the Supreme Court. Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life Committee, said the future of the ban would be dependent upon "future appointments to the Supreme Court," and pointed out the support of President Bush on this issue.

A modified ban that conformed with the constitutional standards protecting the health of women has not been supported to date by the National Right to Life Committee or anti-choice members of Congress, noted Smith.

The National Right to Life Committee yesterday called for passage of new legislation, "Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act," which would force doctors to tell women seeking abortions information about fetal pain – even though the premise remains controversial within the medical community.


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