A year in abortion battles: Abortion proponents defend the gruesome practice as pro-lifers push to repeal Roe v. Wade
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In C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, young King Caspian visits an island under his rule and discovers the territory embroiled in the slave trade. The Narnian king demands the lazy governor explain why the islanders have resorted to this “abominable and unnatural traffic in slaves.” The governor’s reply? “Necessary, unavoidable. … An essential part of the economic development of the islands, I assure you.”
Lewis may have been criticizing his own nation’s excuses for prolonging the slave trade a century and a half earlier, but the lazy assurance he puts in Gov. Gumpas’ mouth is like what pro-lifers encountered throughout 2019, despite some life-affirming legal gains. With principled arguments for abortion losing whatever potency they may once have had, abortion proponents increasingly tried to make money talk.
New York, still America’s commercial capital, started the year with a euphemistically named Reproductive Health Act. The act effectively denies the personhood of the unborn, creates loopholes for abortion at any stage of pregnancy, and loosens the qualifications for medical practitioners who can perform the procedure. The legislation cements the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision into New York state law.
Proponents of the measure argued that New York’s previous laws put a financial burden on women who want late-term abortions by forcing them to travel out of state. Likewise, a July 2019 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research claims the inability to obtain an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy can push mothers and their other children closer to poverty. That’s why supporter state Sen. Andrew Gounardes argued, “A woman’s autonomy over her own body is a basic human right and a necessity in order to attain and preserve economic security in her life.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act on Jan. 22, 2019, the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, setting the tone for a year of polarizing abortion legislation. The city celebrated by lighting up One World Trade Center in pink.
From February to May, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee responded by passing legislation that will outlaw abortion in those states if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. From March to May, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio passed “heartbeat” bills—laws to ban abortion after the baby has a detectable heartbeat. Alabama passed legislation banning abortion at any stage of pregnancy with exceptions for a mother’s health. Missouri, Arkansas, and Utah passed abortion bans with cut-off periods ranging from eight weeks to around 20 weeks of gestation. Governors in Indiana and North Dakota signed bills to ban a common abortion method known as dismemberment abortion. (Federal judges have temporarily blocked some of these laws, including Indiana’s.)
Before Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Georgia “heartbeat” bill in May, a group of Hollywood actors signed a joint letter and sent it to the governor, promising to boycott Georgia should the heartbeat bill pass: “We can’t imagine being elected officials who had to say to their constituents ‘I enacted a law that was so evil, it chased billions of dollars out of our state’s economy.’ It’s not the most effective campaign slogan, but rest assured we’ll make it yours should it come to pass.”
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold was riding the same brainwave when in May she announced she would no longer send state staffers to Alabama because of the state’s new abortion restrictions. Four months later, an Illinois state representative presented a bill that would prevent state agencies from requiring employees to travel to states with restrictive abortion laws or to fund travel to those states. In October, San Francisco blacklisted 22 states with pro-life laws and announced the city would not do business with them.
Echoing the language of the Hollywood actors, a full-page New York Times ad sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights declared all restrictions to abortion access put “communities and the economy at risk” and are “bad for business.” For Planned Parenthood’s business, certainly. But leaders of 348 businesses (mostly small startups) also put their names to the June ad, probably thinking the exposure would attract clients: According to a 2018 report from the public relations firm Weber Shandwick, 46 percent of consumers say they “would be more likely to buy from a company led by a CEO who speaks out on an issue they agree with.”
Also in June, Illinois’ state government followed in New York’s footsteps and passed its own version of the Reproductive Health Act, effectively undoing all previous pro-life legislation in Illinois and establishing it as a destination for abortion seekers. The same month, Vermont and Maine also backed abortion: Vermont’s law prevents the state government from putting any restrictions on abortion, and Maine’s law allows physician assistants and some nurses to perform the procedure.
The polarization seeped down to the city level. In June, the City Council of Waskom, Texas, passed an ordinance declaring itself a “sanctuary city for the unborn”—the first of seven Texas cities to do so in 2019. Already-progressive Portland, Ore., retaliated by passing a resolution affirming the city’s dedication to protecting abortion access. New York City and Austin, Texas, set aside parts of their 2020 budgets to help fund abortion access.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood continued to show its prioritization of abortion. In July, the business fired its president, Leana Wen, who had been on the job only eight months. The split reportedly was over “philosophical differences,” a primary one likely having to do with President Donald Trump’s changes to the Title X funding requirements.
Since 1970, Planned Parenthood had been receiving millions of dollars through the Title X program. But in February the Trump administration announced that it would require Planned Parenthood and other recipients to stop referring for abortions and to keep their abortion services in separate facilities. Since her presidency began, Wen had been shifting the focus of Planned Parenthood away from abortion politics and toward healthcare. By firing Wen, the organization halted that shift. One month later, the board rejected the $60 million in Title X funds altogether. To further cement its position as a political influencer, the company pledged $45 million to support pro-abortion political candidates in the 2020 elections.
Planned Parenthood could add another $2.2 million to its cash pile now that a federal jury has ruled in the company’s favor regarding its lawsuit against David Daleiden and his group the Center for Medical Progress. Planned Parenthood sued Daleiden in 2016 after he and his colleagues released sting videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing the strategic removal and sale of intact body parts obtained from aborted babies. A federal jury found Daleiden and his associates liable for recording the videos illegally, breaking laws against trespassing and fraud, and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Daleiden’s defense team argued he and his colleagues acted as undercover journalists exposing violent crimes.
Planned Parenthood didn’t deny the accuracy of the videos’ content, but a judge with ties to the abortion giant prevented a jury from viewing the videos. Daleiden’s lawyers at the Thomas More Society say they have plenty of cause to appeal the ruling. Thomas More Society President Tom Brejcha said, “This case puts the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech on trial.”
WHEN KING CASPIAN demanded that the slave trade end, Gov. Gumpas objected, “But that would be putting the clock back.”
Likewise, Planned Parenthood fears a rewind to pre-Roe 1972, when a state’s only abortion facility might have been a back-alley office. In Missouri, that reality is becoming possible again. The last abortion facility in the state is a St. Louis Planned Parenthood that failed to pass inspection in March. Since the center did not make the required changes, the state denied its request for a license renewal, which would mean the facility could no longer provide abortions. Planned Parenthood disputed the state’s decision in court, and the judge gave the business permission to continue providing abortions until a state administrative commission decides on the case. The parties expect to receive a verdict early this year.
As the political and legal battles rage, the gruesome reality of abortion continues to play out in facilities across the country, ending an estimated 862,320 lives in 2017 alone.
To combat the possibility of losing ground in Missouri, Planned Parenthood brought reinforcements into the neighboring state of Illinois. The company secretly built a mega clinic 15 miles from St. Louis and opened it in October.
That same month, federal district courts blocked the Georgia heartbeat bill and the Alabama abortion ban. They were the last of 2019’s nine state abortion bans that courts placed on hold because of lawsuits from pro-abortion groups afraid of putting the clock back.
But that was part of the pro-life plan: Incremental protections of the unborn had been the pro-life strategy, but many legislators have switched tactics in an attempt to get one of their bolder bills onto the U.S. Supreme Court docket. The hope is that the justices will use such a bill to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Flipping that decision will prove difficult, though—past attempts have borne little fruit. At the end of the 2018-2019 term, the newly conservative-majority Supreme Court disappointed pro-lifers by passing up cases that would have challenged Roe. The justices handed down a decision affirming part of an Indiana law that requires the cremation or burial of aborted babies but refused to consider the other part of the law that prohibits abortion based on disability, race, or gender. They also turned down an opportunity to reinstate an Alabama law banning “dismemberment abortion.”
One 2014 law out of Louisiana did make it to the Supreme Court in the fall. The legislation requires abortionists to have admitting privileges with a nearby hospital and, if enforced, would close two of the three remaining abortion facilities in the state. The case, scheduled for a March 2020 hearing, is unlikely to overturn Roe but could help whittle down that court precedent.
Pro-lifers aren’t entirely optimistic: Some are uncertain about the position Justice Brett Kavanaugh will take on the abortion issue. And even if Roe is overturned, the battle over abortion will continue at the state level. But the pro-abortion left has become increasingly frantic since Donald Trump’s election and his appointment of two conservative Supreme Court justices.
A December New York Times article fretted that complacency under the Obama administration, followed by cultural, financial, and political divisions, has weakened the pro-abortion left. One of the biggest divisions cited is that between political giant Planned Parenthood and the small, independent providers that perform around 60 percent of abortions in the country but lack a strong voice in the pro-abortion movement. Planned Parenthood is their main advocate in politics, but many don’t appreciate the organization’s emphasis on political power over the practical needs of small abortion facilities and their clients. The Times noted similar tensions within the Democratic Party itself: While the party has abandoned the language of “safe, legal, and rare” (the Democratic Attorneys General Association even made the pro-abortion stance los), some abortion activists worry a radically pro-abortion stance will alienate moderate voters.
Meanwhile, some abortion allies seem to have learned a thing or two from pro-life pregnancy centers. One Alabama nonprofit, the Yellowhammer Fund, helps low-income women with abortion costs and gained overwhelming financial support from Planned Parenthood and Democratic presidential candidates after the state’s abortion ban passed. But the group set aside only a fraction of its budget for abortions: The rest will cover doula care and pay for pro-abortion versions of pregnancy centers that will offer pregnancy tests, diapers, and other essentials to pregnant women. According to the nonprofit’s director, Amanda Reyes, “If all we do as an organization is pay for abortions for low-income people, we are eugenicists. … That is not transformational work. That is slapping a Band-Aid on a huge problem.”
AS THE POLITICAL AND LEGAL BATTLES RAGE, the gruesome reality of abortion continues to play out in facilities across the country, ending an estimated 862,320 lives in 2017 alone. According to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute, this total represents a 7 percent drop from 2014 figures. One explanation may be that fewer women are conceiving in the first place due to increasing use of contraception, and others are using abortifacients and so-called emergency contraceptives, which can induce early abortions not counted in Guttmacher’s estimate.
But the drop in total abortions also came with a rise in chemically induced “medication” abortions. In this method, women take two drugs: mifepristone cuts off life support to the baby and misoprostol causes contractions that expel the baby’s remains. These drugs still require an abortionist’s prescription in the United States, although some organizations sell them illegally to U.S. women online.
Occasional visual reminders of the lives at stake spring before our view. Many are delightful, such as the 3D ultrasound of Abby Johnson’s 36-week unborn baby livestreaming on monitors in Times Square in May. Or the world’s tiniest surviving baby (8.6 ounces), born in late 2018 at the legal abortion age of 23 weeks of gestation, leaving a California hospital five months later.
Others are awful: the hundreds of names of aborted babies written on the walls of the “product of conception” room in Austin’s former Whole Woman’s Health building. The 2,246 preserved baby bodies discovered in the garage of late abortionist Ulrich Klopfer.
“Have you no idea of progress, of development?” the forward-thinking governor asks the young king.
“I have seen them both in an egg,” replies Caspian. “We call it Going Bad.”
—Please read the other features in this issue’s Roe v. Wade special section: “Buildings with baggage” and “Losing the history wars.”
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