An anti-abortion group backed by a billionaire fracking tycoon has embarked on an unusual campaign to shut down abortion clinics: direct mailing DVDs to lawyers in order to entice them to sue doctors.
This unorthodox legal strategy is a new twist on a strategy long employed by Life Dynamics, an anti-abortion group based in Denton, Texas. Two decades ago, the group’s president, Mark Crutcher, began a mail and advertising campaign urging lawyers to take up malpractice lawsuits against abortion providers. The organization’s manuals for attorneys argued that these suits could be used to “force abortionists out of business by driving up their insurance rates.” Crutcher’s campaign was never successful, but he’s still at it—now sending slick DVDs sent to tens of thousands of lawyers.
In the videos, two actors made to look like television news anchors allege that there’s a “child sex abuse scandal” underway. They claim that most minors who become pregnant are not impregnated by a peer, but by an older man. Thus, any pregnant teen should be treated as if there is “reasonable suspicion of child sexual abuse,” they contend. The 11-minute DVD urges lawyers to sue abortion providers, on the premise that clinics are potentially covering up the crime of statutory rape.
With sweeping abortion legislation poised to come before Texas lawmakers again this week, activists on both sides mobilized to bring protesters to the Capitol in Austin.
Last week’s confrontation in the state Senate led to a filibuster and a late-night vote that riveted the nation. Republicans initially said the measure had passed, but the Senate’s presiding officer, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, later conceded that the vote had occurred after the Legislature’s special session expired at midnight.
Gov. Rick Perry then called another 30-day special session to take up the bill, which would bar abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation and force abortion providers to upgrade or close, effectively limiting access to the procedure statewide, opponents say. The new session is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Monday.
New abortion legislation has already been resubmitted in the Legislature. The state House passed the measure during the previous special session, and Perry has said he will sign it.
The measure’s failure last week came in part because of raucous protests from the gallery, as well as the marathon filibuster by state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat.
A Kansas judge on Friday temporarily blocked a new abortion restriction that providers said would make it nearly impossible for a woman to obtain the procedure in an emergency and another requiring them to tell women that disputed assertions about fetal development and abortions are accurate and objective.
Shawnee County District Judge Rebecca Crotty refused to block other portions of the law that ban sex-selection abortions, block tax breaks for abortion providers and prohibits them from furnishing materials or instructors for public schools’ sexuality courses. There is also a requirement for doctors to provide information to patients that includes a statement that abortion ends the life of “whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
The judge ruled in a lawsuit filed by Dr. Herbert Hodes and his daughter, Dr. Traci Nauser, who perform abortions at their Overland Park health center. They asked Crotty to prevent the state from enforcing the entire law while their lawsuit proceeds.
Crisis pregnancy centers — of late, known simply as pregnancy centers — are the foot soldiers of the antiabortion movement, seeking to put a warm and helpful face on it, and to counteract claims that they don’t care about women. In an interview with the New York Times, an Americans United for Life official called the centers “the darlings of the pro-life movement.” The Times put the count of crisis pregnancy centers at 2,500, compared to 1,800 abortion providers. State-level antiabortion leaders like Rick Perry have repeatedly touted the centers, including attempting to replace Planned Parenthood with them, despite the fact that they generally don’t provide services like pap smears, contraceptive prescriptions and breast exams.
The Court may agree to hear one or more abortion cases in its next term. For the most part, these cases have their roots in the Republican landslides in the 2010 midterm elections. At the time, those electoral victories were largely portrayed as being based on economics; the Tea Party was often described as almost libertarian in orientation. But soon after new state legislators took office it became clear that social issues, and especially abortion, were among their highest priorities. In state after state, those Tea Party lawmakers passed new restrictions on abortion, and as the restrictions have taken effect challenges to them have started to work their way through the courts.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, nineteen states passed forty-three new restrictions on abortion in 2012—on top of ninety-two restrictions passed in 2011. The most recent changes came in Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. A Guttmacher report states that the restrictions were in four general areas:
Mandating unnecessary medical procedures. The best known of these practices is requiring an ultrasound before any abortion, so that the woman is compelled to listen to a fetal heartbeat. Eight states now require these ultrasounds.
Increased regulation of abortion providers. These rules, notably strict in Michigan and Virginia, require abortion providers to have hospital-like facilities, while leaving other, similar outpatient institutions untouched.
Hospital privileges. Three states—Arizona, Mississippi, and Tennessee—recently added requirements that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
Limits on later abortions. Louisiana and Arizona have banned abortion after twenty weeks, and other states are weighing similar restrictions. In a law scheduled to go into effect this summer, North Dakota effectively banned abortions after six weeks.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed sweeping anti-abortion legislation Friday, giving his state a new law to block tax breaks for abortion providers, ban sex-selection abortions and declare that life begins “at fertilization.”
Many provisions take effect in July, though the tax changes will be effective for 2014. The measure cleared the Republican-dominated Legislature by wide margins earlier this month.
The GOP governor is a strong abortion opponent who urged lawmakers to create “a culture of life” after taking office in January 2011.
“All human life is sacred. It’s beautiful,” Brownback said just before signing the measure, flanked by abortion opponents. “With this, we continue to build this culture of life in our state.”
An Associated Press photo taken before the signing shows a page of notes about the bill on Brownback’s desk that included a handwritten message at the top: “JESUS + Mary.” Further down the page were typewritten notes spelling out Brownback’s belief that the bill would create “a culture of life.”
While it does not explicitly name Planned Parenthood or any other organization, the bill would bar all Arkansas state funds from going to any entity that provides abortions, refers patients to abortion providers or contracts with any group that does so.
The measure cleared the state Senate on a mostly party-line 19-11 vote, and now moves to the Republican-controlled House, where it is expected to gain final passage.
Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, has not said whether he would sign the bill. But the Arkansas legislature last month overrode his veto of two previous bills placing new restrictions on abortions, including one to ban most abortions from being performed after the 12th week of pregnancy.
Kansas legislators gave final passage to a sweeping anti-abortion measure Friday night, sending Gov. Sam Brownback a bill that declares life begins “at fertilization” while blocking tax breaks for abortion providers and banning abortions performed solely because of the baby’s sex.
The House voted 90-30 for a compromise version of the bill reconciling differences between the two chambers, only hours after the Senate approved it, 28-10. The Republican governor is a strong abortion opponent, and supporters of the measure expect him to sign it into law so that the new restrictions take effect July 1.
In addition to the bans on tax breaks and sex-selection abortions, the bill prohibits abortion providers from being involved in public school sex education classes and spells out in more detail what information doctors must provide to patients seeking abortions.
Comments about “legitimate” rapes and pregnancies that “God intended” got several GOP politicians in trouble last year, and cost the party at least two seats in the Senate. But now one of the country’s most extreme anti-abortion groups is encouraging Republican politicians to keep talking about rape. Personhood USA—the group behind efforts to grant fertilized eggs the same rights as adult humans—announced last week that it is launching a new campaign to push lawmakers to strip rape exceptions from federal abortion laws.
Although abortion has long been a fraught issue in American politics, many anti-choice politicians have felt compelled—either out of personal belief or because of public pressure—to allow for narrow exceptions to all-out bans on abortion in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk. Federal policy has, for the most part, aligned with those exceptions. The Hyde Amendment, the legislation that governs much of the federal government’s relationship with abortion providers, forbids federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and where the life of the mother is endangered. But Personhood USA’s new “Save the 1” campaign wants to eliminate those exceptions, and eventually make all abortions—even for rape victims—illegal.