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EQUALITY ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives Health Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES

When an Abortionist Dies

Dr. Spencer, 1889–1969: Last Trip to Ashland

One month, to the date, before his death last Tuesday, I was privileged to meet the legendary Dr. Robert Douglas Spencer. The trip to Ashland, which was more in the nature of a pilgrimage than a quest for an interview, had come about through the good graces of Dr. Nathan H. Rappaport. A chance to meet Spencer, and through the entree of another abortionist, was an unusual opportunity. Arrangements were made and carried out on a day’s notice. Rappaport drove us to the Pennsylvania coal country in his Citroen. The other passengers were Carol Kahn, a reporter for Medical World News, and her husband, Ira.

We were a high-spirited group, Carol, Ira, and I, and we must have sorely taxed the ego of our friend during the four-hour drive to the little town near Pottsville, pumping him as we did for details of Spencer’s life. It was a journey to Ashland that, I expect, was quite different from the more than 30,000 other journeys that travelers had made to this village, travelers with a secret, urgent mission.

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Spencer, I knew, was back in business again, at the age of 79. The justifiedly famous doctor had reopened his clinic on Centre Street and was now charging the incredible sum of $200, a concession, as he later told us, to the higher cost of drugs and supplies. At $200, Spencer’s price was still hard to believe, well under the going rate for such things. He was still unique in American history.

I tried to recall during our journey just when it was that Dr. Spencer of Ashland had first come into my consciousness. It was, I determined, about 12 years ago. A friend, a painter, had called one day to report that she was pregnant and desperate and did I know of anyone. The only abortionist I had heard of was one another friend, a model, had told me about. She had been taken to him blindfolded and he had charged her $1000. The model had not seen her doctor’s face without his mask and she did not know his real name. The painter, however, was able to make better arrangements. She called back to say that she had gotten wind of a Spencer in Ashland, Pennsylvania, who was supposed to be great, kind, and medically responsible, and who did abortions for practically nothing because he believed in them. A week later my painter friend came over to see me. Spencer in Ashland was a reality. He was, she reported with wonder, a kindly old man. His clinic was spotless. He had a nurse and an attendant. She had slept over at the clinic and had met some other girls who were in a similar plight. The next day, when she departed, he had given her an assortment of pills to ward off infection and build up her strength. He seemed concerned about her, downright fatherly. He didn’t make her think she had done something wrong. The operation hadn’t caused her much pain, and, the biggest wonder of all, it was only $50.

And so it was that Spencer went into my telephone book, under “A” for abortionist. I am poor at remembering telephone numbers, but Spencer’s old number is still in my memory. It was Ashland 404. I was an aspiring actress in those days, and much taken with Tennessee Williams. I remember once passing along the Spencer number to another friend and saying in my best “Summer and Smoke” voice, “Really, I think of it as the telephone number of God.” Young acting students are all over-dramatic, but there was good cause for such intense language when talking about Spencer. Spencer meant deliverance, it was as simple as that. Going to Spencer meant taking an alternative that the culture was doing its damnedest to hide or distort. The public image of an abortionist, through books, plays, movies, articles, or whatever, was of an evil, leering, drunken, perverted butcher at worst, and a cold, mysterious, money-hungry Park Avenue price-gouger at best. And then there was Spencer with his clinic on the main street of a small American town, who charged $50, who believed in abortions, and who was kind. Knowing about Spencer in Ashland was one irrefutable piece in the logic which led one to the conclusion that the culture was capable of the big lie.

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As the years passed, Spencer’s name would come up from time to time. The price had gone from $50 to $100. Some people remembered when it had been $25, or even $10. There were long stretches when the doctor in Ashland would go into retirement, and there were stories of treks to Ashland only to find the clinic boarded up and silent. There was, we heard, a death on his operating table from a reaction to the anesthesia. There was a trial and there was, miraculously, an acquittal. We heard misinformation, too. Spencer had become an abortionist, the rumor went, because his own daughter had died on the operating table of an abortionist-butcher. This story was untrue, unfortunately popularized in a bad novel based loosely on the life of Spencer by a lady novelist with one of those awkward three-name combinations. Maybe the lady meant it symbolically. Spencer’s real-life daughter, better information had it, was alive and well, and so was his son. Other information I absorbed about Spencer, I was later to learn, was quite accurate. He was a committed atheist and free-thinker who often pressed his literature into the hands of the girls along with the antibiotics and vitamin pills. He had gotten into abortion work during the ’20s through the supplication of the miners’ wives in the Pennsylvania coal country, and his work for the miners — he was a pioneer in the technique of bronchoscopy — won him a heavy workmen’s compensation caseload, and, some said, the protection of the United Mine Workers during the years when the protection of the mine workers was something that counted.

Ashland, Pennsylvania. Principal products: coal, homemade wine, and abortions. The sort of Americana that always evaded the Saturday Evening Post. The town of Ashland is in some parts as narrow as the width of two streets. One of those streets is Centre Street, which is also a state highway. For some romantic reason I’d pictured Spencer’s clinic as a rambling, gabled mansion with a front porch. It was, instead, a very ordinary three-story, brick-face structure, flat, characterless, and attached on both side to similar-looking units. Diagonally across from it was the local movie theatre, which bore the legend, “We Burn Coal.” Most of the private homes and business in Ashland resist installing oil burners, and show their defiance with a printed placard.

Spencer’s home was on South 9th Street, just a few blocks from the clinic. It was a little house with a storm door and no lawn. There was a Christmas wreath in the window. The hour was late when we rang the bell. Spencer’s wife, a tall, big-boned woman, greeted us and led us past the formal parlor to a back room: Spencer’s study.

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And there he was, a tiny wisp of a man, frail, dry as dust, with sharp, thin features and bright eyes. He was wearing a suit of some dark material and it hung on him loosely. Rappaport had told us that Spencer had more or less stopped eating this last year, convinced that his health was irrevocably failing. There were signs of his eating habits about: two opened packages of pistachio nuts. He sat in a rocker, with what looked like a bear rug slung over his knees. He hardly looked capable of the energy required to attend to three or four abortions a day, which was his current schedule. (In his heyday, he had handled 10 to 11 patients.)

We were introduced, and we gravely paid our respects to his reputation, which I think pleased him. The interests of the man were evident in his study. Books of every description, some still in their mail-order wrappings, lined the walls and were stacked on tables, fighting for space with the mementoes of his travels: large chunks of mineral rock, strange and beautiful Indian masks, a blow gun, and a fine collection of rifles. “Douglas likes to go boar hunting. Show them your boar-hunting pictures,” Rappaport said, and Spencer got up and obliged. The snapshots showed the tiny figure with a big, red hunter’s cap on his head, standing in a group with four or five other hunters, towering men, each with his rifle proudly stuck in the ground. Behind the hunting party, 11 large black boars were strung up in a neat row, quite dead. Dr. R. D. Spencer was, he informed us, firmly against gun registration.

Carol or Ira called attention to the microscopes. Several of them were about the room, some with camera attachments and light boxes, and one which Spencer himself had designed. Spencer’s training had been in pathology. Happy to show us the microscopes, he went to one of his cabinets and pulled out some slides. As we took turns at the microscope, intently viewing the various specimens of single-celled life that Spencer had prepared, the man grew increasingly more animated. He was entertaining his guests, and thoroughly enjoying it, and we in turn were thoroughly charmed and engaged, so much so that our friend Rappaport withdrew somewhat testily to the front parlor to converse with Mrs. Spencer.

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Warming to his audience, Spencer brought out further treasures. “This,” he announced of one exhibit, “is the life history of a fly.” And it was, from an insignificant speck to the insect as we know it. “Do you know what this is?” he queried, showing us a small, clear plastic block with something red and curled imprisoned in the center. It was, he told us, the embryo of a pig. We passed it from had to hand, marveling at its tiny perfection, examining it more closely under one of the microscopes. Spencer showed us another red, curled specimen in plastic. “A human embryo,” he announced. “Less than four weeks old.” Unbelievable, but there it was, tiny, more intricate than the pig, with a spot for the eye and the definite tracing of a spinal column. In all, he showed us three tiny human embryos, none more than a thumbnail long, but the third larger and more developed than the first. The only human embryos I had ever seen were those in a big picture layout in Life Magazine. These were in my hand, three-dimensional and real. I took the largest human one and compared it with the pig. A sentence from biology class popped into my head. “Well, ontogeny certainly does recapitulate phylogeny, doesn’t it?”

We were gripped by the human embryos and would have liked to see more, if there were any, but Spencer was digging in his cabinet for other exhibits. He showed us something pitch-black ad vaguely cloth-like in a glass slide. “I’ll give you a hint about this one,” he said, playing a game. “It’s animal and mineral and indigenous to the region.” We were stumped. “Carbon?” I ventured. “That’s the mineral part of it,” he admitted. “Well, a fossilized animal in coal?” I tried again. “This is a piece of a miner’s lung,” he stated simply. “The miner died, obviously.”

We didn’t leave Spencer’s house until close to 1 a.m., and we returned the next day. “He’s been expecting you all morning,” his wife said as she brought us to the rear study. We had thought, Carol and I, that we had better make a stab at a proper interview this time, particularly since Carol’s magazine was paying for her part of the trip. She set up her tape recorder and I reluctantly brought out my notebook. It seemed unfair to ruin a social visit. Spencer apparently though so, too. It was hard to keep him to the subject and several exasperated looks were exchanged among us as our host got involved in anecdote after anecdote, complex stories involving his diagnostic skills, but not at all about abortion.

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Trying our best to pin him down to his very first abortion, we discovered that there really was no such thing as a first abortion, a conscious decision to break the law, with trumpets. He had gotten requests from some local women, and he had obliged. “But why,” I persisted, “did you oblige? Most other doctors don’t. Why were you different? Why did you do abortions for women?” He rocked back and forth in his chair. “Because,” he said slowly, “I could see their point of view.”

For Carol, he attempted to describe his medical procedure. After using the packing method for a couple of years, one day he got a circular in the mail for Leunbach paste, manufactured in Germany. “By golly, it worked,” he told us. Later, when the Leunbach was taken off the market, he began manufacturing his own product in his laboratory, a mild soft-soap solution, which he used to dilate the cervix and loosen the conceptus in the first stage of his procedure. The following day he would complete the curettage. Spencer refined his own technique and he stuck with it for 40 years. The newer methods didn’t interest him.

Spencer told us that he was following with keen interest the recent attempts to liberalize abortion laws in several states. He himself had written Governor Shafer of Pennsylvania. “I told him that most of our laws are from the English,” he said spiritedly, “so why don’t we go to work and copy the one they just passed?” He talked about his letter-writing with the righteousness of an American Legionnaire or a Rotarian, which was not surprising, since he later told us that he was a founder of the Pennsylvania Legion and had been an active Rotarian all his life. His father had been the district attorney of the neighboring country. Did that explain his remarkable record of longevity in a career which is usually marked by the law crashing down on the practitioner’s head? “No,” he said thoughtfully. “I’ve been here since 1919. I daresay I’ve helped out half the town. Even on the abortion end, there is probably one of my patients related to a family in half of the town. I think most of the town would stand up for me.”

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It was 4 p.m. and beginning to snow, and Rappaport was urging us to get going. We said our goodbyes reluctantly. “Please come back and visit again soon,” Spencer urged. I had noticed that among his vast collection of books was a Writer’s Market ’69. Had he been thinking of publishing something, I inquired. Spencer smiled wistfully. Did he want an article about him in a major magazine, with a picture, I pushed. He allowed as how once the New York Times had been interested, but his lawyer had thought that the time wasn’t right. He still had an indictment hanging over his head. References to Spencer had appeared in print, but usually he was “the legendary Dr. S.” Time Magazine, as far as I knew, was the only mass circulation magazine to print his name in full. I told him I thought the time couldn’t be more right for publicity. The idea seemed to appeal to him. Punctiliously he gave me the address and telephone number of his lawyer in Pottsville, and then, special privilege, his own private unlisted number at the house. “We’ll do it for your 80th birthday,” I promised. He had told us that his birth date was March 16, and he was going to celebrate by shutting the clinic for a month and taking his wife on a trip around the world.

Last week I got a call from Dr. Rappaport. Spencer had died that morning at 5 a.m. ❖

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From The Archives Health THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Abortionist on the Circuit of Fear

The abortionist is the man hunted by the police and a million desperate women a year.

No city can be without him. Few are.

In almost every town there are quacks and butchers with minimal training. Taxi drivers and pharmacists who improvise. Neighbors whose tools are knitting needles, wire coat hangers, and crude catheters.

Scattered across the country and in the larger cities there are a handful of qualified doctors who because of money or ideals or other circumstances have tried to meet the frantic demand for the abortions the hospitals won’t perform.

These men are the stars of the underground abortion circuit. Women travel to Pennsylvania, Florida, Baltimore, or Washington because of the reduced risk to their lives these men represent. Women pass these doctors’ names along as a gesture of friendship and social amenity. Their names appear on experience-tested and approved lists circulated among college girls. The lists also contain tips like whether or not to let the doctor’s receptionist know why you are calling, whether or not to plan to stay overnight, what the best deals on fees are, and usually end by advising the girls — for her emotional well-being — not to go to the abortionist alone.

These lists are often used as the basis for a non-profit referral service. One 21-year-old girl from Long Island has steered 15 friends and friends of friends three times removed to abortionists in the last year. She has received as many as four calls in one week from girls around the country who did not want to become another statistic among the roughly 5000 who are known to die from illegal abortions each year or to risk sterilization at the hands of an incompetent bungler.

The qualified abortionists who make these lists would be respected members of the medical profession in Sweden or Japan or Hungary.

Nathan Rappaport is part of this medical nether world. He has been performing illegal abortions for almost 40 years. An alumnus of City College, a graduate with honors from the University of Arkansas Medical School, with advanced training at the University of Pennsylvania, he spent nine of the past 15 year in jail. He lost his medical license, his home, his wife, and his children. He has been publicly humiliated and exorcised. Ignored on the street by doctors and people he served in his office. And frequently blackmailed.

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$1000 a Month

Two patrolmen in a community where he worked in pay-offs. Surgical nurses, doctors, and various hospital personnel have been paid not to report to authorities abortion patients who needed hospital facilities.

It was because he refused to pay off a couple of hold-up men who kept making repeat visits that the gangsters tipped the police and he was arrested for the first time, in 1950. When he was arrested again, in Florida, the police, always glad to be of service, gave his instruments to another abortionist who was paying off at a higher rate.

On parole since May from his last two-year sentence, Rappaport is living in a no-color green room in a hotel on West 73rd Street. At 66 he is a round man. Round face, round glasses, a pleasantly rounded body.

In a short-sleeved sport shirt that stayed crisp despite the steam-bath atmosphere of the room, he sat before a small kitchen table piled high with a collection of printed materials, a tape recorder, and long sheets of yellow steno paper covered with an ink scrawl. He is in the process of writing his second book.

The Whole Story

The new book will be called “Man’s Inhumanity to Women.” The title tells the whole story. Men made the abortion laws, women suffer because of them.

“If the women had had any hand in shaping the statutes that were put on the books a hundred years ago we would probably have abortion practically on demand the way they do in many European countries,” he said.

Although his first book “The Abortionist” was published by Doubleday under the alias of Dr. X, Rappaport has decided to bring the new book out under his own name now that he is going to fight actively for more liberal abortion laws.

The laws in 42 states now specifically limit abortions to those cases in which it is necessary to save a life. No provision for abortions for health reasons is stated in the New York penal code.

These laws, which are mainly monuments to political fear, will not be changed in the legislatures, Dr. Rappaport believes. He plans to battle through the courts.

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The Legendary Dr. S.

He is currently organizing abortionists, including the legendary Dr. S. of Pennsylvania, who was recently arrested. Rappaport hopes that either through appealing his own case or that of some other doctor to work his way up to the Supreme Court. He is looking for some abortees or sympathizers who would be willing to adopt some of the tactics of the civil-rights movement and join him in battle.

Speaking of his plans, his experience, the books he had read, or the fourth estate, Nathan Rappaport seems an articulate, warm, comfortable man who would be very much in control of most situations.

“You surely must wonder,” he said during the interview, “why I can’t behave like so many other doctors you’ve known. Even in these sordid surroundings you sense that I am above all a doctor. Why can’t I act like a reasonable, intellectual, and professional man?

“The answer on the simplest level is that I am not a reasonable man. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.

Almost 40 years ago I helped organize planned parenthood clinics. This type of medical practice was looked up on askance then. I felt then, as I do now, that the needs of my patients in their pursuit of happiness and love was of primary importance to me, their physician, and that the wonder of conception, its regulation, postponement, or interruption is wholly a medical problem. It is not the sphere of influence or interpretation of the moralists, religionists, faddists, legalists, or anybody else.

“I don’t want to be forced by them to be a judge when a woman pleads with me for an abortion. I am a doctor who has been trained to answer the cry of distress. My task is to ease the agony of an anguished mind. And, if I cannot persuade the woman to have the child, I want to at least save her body from the mutilation and torture of an operation without the anesthetics the charlatans do not know how to, or dare not, use.

“My refusing to perform the abortion wouldn’t prevent it. A woman determined to have an abortion will find someone to do it or do it herself,” Rappaport said.

Jackson Heights

This man who has ended his medical career as a criminal began it as a law-abiding doctor in Jackson Heights.

“I always believed that competent abortions were essential, but when I first opened my office in 1926 I never thought I could go outside the law to commit them. I sent all my abortion patients to another doctor.

“Two years after I was in practice a relative begged me to perform one and I finally did it on the kitchen table. Then the Depression came. More and more women asked me for abortions because they could not afford to feed another mouth. The collections from my practice had dwindled to almost nothing. There was pressure from my family to take the abortion money. By 1933 I had let the druggist and other doctors know I was available and made abortion my specialty.

“I tried to quit after I got out of prison the first time and just to do something related to medicine. But, with my license revoked and my jail record, I couldn’t get a job anywhere in the world. I was even turned down for a position as a medical aide in Cambodia,” he said.

Over the years of practice on the fringes of the medical world, the fees for his services rose from the $25 of the Depression to an average of $300.

“Like all doctors from time immemorial, I adjusted fees according to the patient’s ability to pay. I have done many abortions free or for very little money, but when I got an affluent patient I charged extra, not a little, but a lot. The rich patients helped pay the graft which is part of the overhead of the business,” Rappaport said.

Even with an average fee of $300, his rates were low. The going price for an illegal abortion these days is about $500 and along Park and Fifth Avenues it can run into the thousands.

In the case of therapeutic abortions performed in hospitals it is common practice, according to Rappaport, to pay a couple of hundred dollars to each of two psychiatrists so they will testify before the board approving the abortions for the hospital. The magic words that can get the legal abortion are, “this woman will take her life if she has to have the baby.”

Sometimes the boards will stretch and bend the interpreta­tion of the abortion law either for humanitarian reasons or, as Rappaport charges, because one or more board members have gotten a little something to remember the applicant by.

Despite the monetary persua­sions that may be used, avail­able statistics report only 8000 legal hospital-approved abortions of the more than a million that take place each year. There were four times as many legal abortions 25 years ago. While the practice of medicine has advanced in almost all other areas it has gone backward in its approach to abortions. Now that doctors have learned how to bring women with almost any illness including kidney disease and cancer successfully through a pregnancy, most of the real medical reasons for legal hospi­tal abortions and the convenient pretexts have been eliminated. More than 25,000 of the women who have been shut out of the hospitals have found their way to Nathan Rappaport’s office in the years since he made his critical choice.

Over 65 per cent of them were married women.

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First Talk

Some were minors. Their par­ents usually came with them. The shared experience often develop­ed a great bond between the parents and child. In some cases it was the first time they really talked to one another.

There were women trying to rid themselves of the guilt of carrying the wrong man’s child or the child of a marriage that was about to break up. There were victims of the worn-out mother syndrome and of rape. Young girls ignorant of contraceptive devices and sophisticated women who, whatever their emotional or psychological reasons, failed to use them. Women too poor to afford another child and women too rich to be bothered.

“Most of those who came to me,” Rappaport said, acted like the guiltiest of criminals; in their own minds they must have been. Yet, much of the guilt is imposed on them by a society that forces them to skulk down dark alleys looking for a doctor and condemns as criminal what is accepted as common in other countries.

“Their decision to come to me was usually an agonizing one. Who then was I to hand down a flat judgment telling them it’s worse to destroy a baby before it’s born than to let it live life as an unwanted, often unloved and neglected child? Or to tell these women they should have their babies and give them up at the time maternal feelings are the strongest, when, especially if Negro, the child can spend its life in an institution waiting to be adopted.

“Once the women got to my office some were unable to face the operation and fled. Filled with old wives’ tales and horror stories, many feared they were about to die. Those who went through with it often were so terrified no amount of assurance I could give them during the preliminary interview did any good.

“I could empathize with their fear. I still faint in the dentist’s chair every time he injects novocaine into my jaw, my way of dying a coward’s thousand deaths.

“Of those I operated on, the least frightened were teenagers. Perhaps because they have not heard enough to be terrorized.

“The bravest to come my way were the Oriental women who submitted to abortions with or without anesthesia, without flinching, their control a marvel to behold.

“But the most casual patient I ever had was a dancer in the Rockettes. She sauntered in for her abortion, rose blithely from the table when it was over, and did a little dance, still dizzy from the anesthesia. A moment later, while my back was turned, she took out a cigarette and lit it. Her lungs were still full of resid­ual ether fumes. Why an explosion did not occur I still don’t understand.”

These women, whose bond was the life they didn’t want or couldn’t have growing inside them, arrived at Nathan Rappa­port’s office like the trains from New York to Washington sched­uled every hour on the hour. He tried to limit the appointments to five a day, but on some week­ends they arrived in droves. Rap­paport has done as many as 27 abortions in one day, and knows of another abortionist who has done 50.

“The actual abortion,” he said, “took me anywhere from five to 20 minutes; depending on how much fetal tissue had to be re­moved and how readily it could be reached. Occasionally an op­eration would last for an hour or longer.”

For women less than three months pregnant he used the standard abortion technique which is known as dilation and curettage or “D and C.” The operation is performed with a small rake-shaped metal instrument used to scrape the walls of the womb.

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Too Dangerous

This method is generally considered too dangerous if used after three months because as the womb enlarges, its musculature thins, making perforation and internal hemorrhaging more likely.

Pregnancies over three months were refused in the early years of Rappaport’s practice. Then he began to use a method which is new to this country but was known in Eastern Europe for some time. The technique involves injecting a salt solution through the abdomen into the amniotic sac enclosing the fetus. Within 24 hours this induces labor and a miscarriage.

Rappaport believes this is an even safer method than the D and C because instruments do not have to be introduced into the body for any length of time.

Unexpected Problems

He always used anesthesia, although it sometimes cause unexpected problems.

“I gave the wife of a young intern sodium pentathol, which also acts as a kind of truth serum. When she came out of the anesthesia she asked if her husband could sit with her in the recovery room. I permitted him to go in and he hovered solicitously by her bed. Leaning over to kiss his wife he said, ‘Darling, I’m so sorry you had to go through all this.’

“She, still under the effects of the anesthesia, blurted out that she didn’t know what he was so worried about because it wasn’t his kid, anyway.

“I didn’t wait to hear his an­swer. I fled back into my office and told my nurse to call me when they left.

“Women who use alcohol or drugs in any amount and don’t tell me when I ask them in the preliminary interview also caused me problems. They often get a high from the anesthesia. They used to fly all over the table with me chasing them, instruments in hand. In most of these cases it was impossible to operate.

Calculate Risk

“Operating on a person outside a hospital is always a calculated risk, no matter how good the technique,”Rappaport said. “In any surgery complication can arise. In a hospital you’re much better prepared for them. You have immediate access to blood banks, additional professional help, and consultations, and almost all the necessary equip­ment and drugs.”

It is because of the ever pres­ent risk which increases as the skill of the abortionist decreases that Rappaport wants even the best of illegal abortionists put out of business by hospitals given the freedom to deal realistically with abortions and the determined women who insist on having them.

Ideally, he would like to do away with all laws limiting hospital abortions because he considers these laws no more relevant or necessary to a medical problem than laws dictating tonsillectomies.

Practically, he wants the laws in this country liberalized at least to the Swedish or Danish level. And maybe even to see abortions covered by Blue Cross.

In addition to granting abortions for medical reasons such as a threat to the mental or physical health or life of the woman he wants them granted for eugenic reasons.

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Mental Deficiencies

Eugenic abortions would include cases in which there are serious mental deficiencies in the parents or the probability of a congenital disease of malformation in the unborn infant. The Sherri Finkbine abortion was granted on eugenic grounds, but she had to travel to Sweden to get the abortion after learning that the Thalidomide she had taken produced monstrously deformed children.

Little Argument

Rappaport also believes there should be little argument about granting abortions on humanitarian grounds to victims of rape or incest, or to girls less than 15 years old. Abortions for general health reasons such as too many chil­dren or children too close to­gether should be permitted, he said.

There are two other general grounds on which he feels abor­tion should be allowed. One is for social reasons — when a woman feels that bearing a child would have disastrous effects on her life because of the stigma society places on the unwed mother and the illegitimate child.

The other is for psychological reasons, when the woman is emotionally unfit to be a mother, does not want the child, or when there seem to be indications that a child raised by the woman will suffer because of her attitude.

“I want to make it absolutely clear,”‘ Rappaport said, “that in no instance would I ever recom­mend an abortion unless the mother herself wanted it. That would be running Hitler a close second. It would not matter how deformed or how psychotic the baby would prove to be, if the mother wanted to give birth, that would be her choice.”

No Deterrent

He does not believe liberalizing the laws will encourage abortions or that the present laws deter them.

“The complicated reasons that drive a woman or a rebellious girl to become pregnant and then to not want her child have absolutely nothing to do with the existence or nonexistence of laws,” he said.

Yet, punitive laws remain on the books.

These laws sentence at least 5000 women a year to death. Degrade others by forcing them to search from pharmacist to laundrywoman to hotel clerk for the abortionists. And make getting a competent abortion the lucky break of the few who have money or who are tipped by the underground referral service to doctors like Nathan Rappaport.

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For Many Women, a World Without Abortion Access Is Already Here

What would life be like without Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that gave women in the U.S. the right to a legal abortion? This has become a common question ever since President Donald Trump nominated federal judge Brett Kavanaugh last month to replace the just-retired justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, with anti-abortion activists gearing up for a post-Roe world and defenders of abortion rights warning that if confirmed by the Senate next month, Kavanaugh could be the deciding vote to re-criminalize abortion

If that were to happen, the United States would revert to a patchwork of local laws; only eight states — Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, California, Nevada, Washington, and Hawaii — have laws that guarantee the right to abortion, while others have legislation in place that would immediately ban it. In New York, the state’s 1970 abortion legalization law remains in place but makes no allowances for procedures after 24 weeks of pregnancy, even if the fetus can’t survive or if the pregnancy is causing non-life-threatening risks to the woman’s health. The likelihood of an eventual overturn of Roe has raised specters of a return in most of the U.S. to the days when women routinely had to cobble together money to either pay underground practitioners or travel to places where abortion was legal, or were forced to carry undesired pregnancies to term.

In practice, though, that’s already the reality in which many Americans live. report published last year in the medical journal the Lancet found that in 2014 the median distance a woman would have had to travel to get to an abortion clinic was between 10 and 79 miles, and 20 percent of women would have had to travel 42 miles or more. Another study issued last year by the Guttmacher Institute found that the number of clinics decreased by 22 percent in the Midwest and 13 percent in the South between 2011 and 2014.

As Rebecca, a resident of Buffalo, New York, who spoke to the Voice on the condition that she not provide her last name, says, getting an abortion in 2018 can already prove a monumentally difficult task. “I was terrified,” she recalls of the moment earlier this year when she determined she needed an abortion promptly to meet legal time limits, and of her discovery of all the obstacles she would face in obtaining one. “It was surprising realizing what isn’t available where I live and how many barriers there are.”

Mary Badame, a board member at the New York Abortion Access Fund, which ended up aiding Rebecca, warns that if Roe is fully overturned, insurance coverage of abortions will likely be very limited — making it that much harder for women to afford services even in states where they still exist. Without stronger state laws and more funding from both local governments and donors to abortion access funds, she warns, “hundreds if not thousands of individuals may go without the care that they need and end up being forced to carry a pregnancy to term that they wanted to terminate.”

***

Last January, as Rebecca recalls, she felt a fluttering in her stomach and had a sinking feeling; two pregnancy tests later, she found out she was pregnant. Though she has a well-paying job in the insurance field, is married to her high school sweetheart, and has an eight-year-old daughter who she describes as her dream girl, Rebecca says she knew she shouldn’t have another child right now — she was taking medications for depression and anxiety, and didn’t know how they would affect the fetus. 

“The alternative to having an abortion felt unsafe, so I made the best decision I could for my family,” she says. She scheduled an appointment at one of Buffalo’s three remaining abortion providers for the following day. 

The next day at the clinic, however, Rebecca learned that she was 24 weeks pregnant. As none of Buffalo’s providers perform abortions after 19 weeks of pregnancy, “New York City was the closest and only option for me,” she tells the Voice. What’s more, since she was already near New York State’s cutoff for a legal abortion, she had to make an appointment at a New York City clinic for five days later, take emergency time off of work, and ask her parents to help out her husband with their daughter while she made the eight-hour drive downstate, unsure if the clinic there would turn her away because her pregnancy was so close to the legal limit.

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When she arrived in New York City, she found out that her insurance didn’t completely cover the procedure, and that she would have to pay for a portion of it herself up front.

“At this point, I start to freak out,” she says. She sent her friend who’d accompanied her to New York City to the nearest ATM with her bank card, to withdraw what funds were left in her checking account. Her friend returned with the money and a suggestion: She knew of an organization called the New York Abortion Access Fund, which helps women who need financial assistance to obtain abortions.

Rebecca says she called NYAAF and spoke with a volunteer: “I let her know that my situation was time-sensitive, and if I didn’t have step one of the procedure done today, I likely wouldn’t be able to have it done at all.” After a few more phone calls and several more trips to the ATM, NYAAF was able to provide the $800 Rebecca still needed.

“She told me that she would call reception and let them know,” she recalls. “I paid the balance minus $800 and reception told me they’d heard from NYAAF already. They said I would be called to go in for the procedure.”

***

NYAAF is one of several dozen abortion funds that have been quietly operating in the U.S. for decades, and the largest in New York City. (New York is also home to the Haven Coalition, which works with clinics to provide housing for women who have to travel to the city to seek abortions, and the Brigid Alliance, which helps with transportation, housing, meals, and childcare.) Founded in 2001, it remains an all-volunteer-run organization — Rebecca notes that its board needed to vote before approving her $800 — that offers financial support for women living in or traveling to New York who aren’t able to pay for abortion care.

Badame explains that NYAAF volunteers operate three helplines — one for people living in New York City, one for those outside of New York City, and one for Spanish speakers — as well as respond to requests for assistance via email. As in Rebecca’s case, hotline operators work to determine whether Medicaid can cover any costs, negotiate discounts with clinics, and seek out other funding sources, then decide what to pledge from NYAAF’s own fundraising as well.

Along with such national organizations as the National Abortion Federation and the National Network of Abortion Funds’ Tiller Fund, abortion funds provide a loose network that fills the gaps in abortion access that have existed since not long after Roe. The biggest reason women today seek aid, says Badame, remains the Hyde Amendment, which, starting in 1976, banned the use of federal funds like Medicaid to pay for abortions, leaving it up to individual states to determine whether to cover the procedure. “We see a lot of people from states where Medicaid won’t cover the cost of the procedure.” She says NYAAF also often receives requests from young people trying to avoid mandatory waiting periods and parental consent laws.

Bans on abortion after 20 weeks, in place in 17 states, are another factor that forces women to travel to other states to receive care, says Badame. To that end, she says that at NYAAF, “there has been a consistent increase in the distance clients must travel to access abortion after 17 weeks’ gestation.”

Recently, she says, NYAAF has noticed that clients traveling from out of state are particularly prone to be seeking care in their second trimester or later. In 2016, according to Badame, 36 percent of NYAAF’s clients had traveled from other states to New York to get care, with 15 percent of those coming from the South, where clinics are now few and far between: More than 90 percent of Mississippi women aged 15 to 44 live in a county with no abortion provider, and Kentucky’s last remaining clinic is currently fighting for its life in court.

“We’re already seeing these states imposing more and more restrictions that make abortion care harder to access, states where there are many less clinics, maybe a parental consent law, or a mandatory waiting period and people just can’t access the care that they need in their home state,” says Badame.

***

Not all women forced to travel for abortions are headed away from blue states. New Yorker Erika Christensen has previously written about her experience in May 2016, when she discovered that her pregnancy wasn’t viable: The fetus was going to be unable to breathe, and would choke to death when it was born. She and her partner decided that an abortion was the best option — but at 30 weeks of pregnancy, she was past New York’s 24-week cutoff, and ended up having to travel to Colorado for a procedure to stop her fetus’s heartbeat. “This was very shocking to us because we had no idea that there were restrictions in New York at all,” says Christensen.

Even though she ended up having to borrow $10,000 from her mother’s retirement fund to pay for the procedure in Colorado, she considers herself privileged in a way. “How about the people who can’t read a bunch of really complicated paperwork, who don’t speak English, who aren’t adults in a loving relationship?” Christensen asks. The problem, they eventually realized, was New York’s law making abortions after 24 weeks illegal: “Every time we saw a problem, we would look for what caused it, and it all kept coming back to this law in New York.”

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Christensen has advocated for the Reproductive Health Act, a bill currently up for consideration in the New York State legislature that would allow abortions after 24 weeks for nonviable fetuses or to protect the woman’s health. But though the RHA may finally have a chance at passage — the Independent Democratic Conference that has helped prevent the bill from getting a vote has finally dissolved, and feeling pressure from Cynthia Nixon’s campaign, Governor Andrew Cuomo called for passage of the legislation last month — it wouldn’t do anything for women who live in states with anti-abortion legislatures, or where abortions are impossible to come by or pay for.

In 1971, Jan Peterson became pregnant at age 16 in Illinois, where abortion was still illegal, and borrowed money from friends to travel to New York, which had legalized the procedure the previous year. She says she was ecstatic when Roe legalized abortion nationwide two years later. But when asked about its precarious future, she explains that she worries women “are going to go places where they shouldn’t be going to have a procedure done that is the wrong procedure.”

“I never realized that there were that many obstacles,” says Rebecca of her experience, and the growing realization that she would have to grapple with everything from hours-long travel to finding a way to pay for a procedure that her insurance would not. “As many barriers that I faced, there could have been a lot more. We think that we have the right to choose, but there is a threshold for when that stops being true given the political climate that we’re in right now.”

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Healthcare THE FRONT ARCHIVES The Harpy

Donald Trump and the Coming War on Women’s Rights

The history of women in America before Roe v. Wade is a history of blood.

When Caroline had an abortion in 1963, she went alone to a “ramshackle little house” in a disreputable neighborhood of Youngstown, Ohio. Later, in her college dormitory, she labored for twelve hours, alone, and began to bleed uncontrollably. “There was more blood than I ever imagined,” she told the Cut. When, at last, she overcame her fear of seeing a doctor for the aftereffects of the abortion, she was told her life had been at risk.

A reader of Ms. recalled his mother telling him that, after an illegal abortion in her teens, she bled so profusely that her boyfriend at the time collected newspapers for her to sit on, as she waited out the pain in a hotel room, unable to seek medical care without facing potential criminal charges. 

In 2018, after decades of erosion, the last levee protecting reproductive rights in the U.S. seems poised to break. The impending retirement of Anthony Kennedy, and his imminent replacement with a Trump-appointed Supreme Court judge, seems to portend the end of Roe v. Wade, which struck down anti-abortion laws in forty-six states and the District of Columbia in 1973.

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The United States government, seeking to restrict women’s reproductive rights, is bucking a global trend, as countries that have criminalized abortion for decades begin to ease their stringent laws in the face of determined feminist outcry.

Just two months ago, across the Atlantic, women all over Ireland rose up in celebration of a hard-won victory: By an overwhelming margin, the country’s 3.2 million registered voters supported a referendum to overturn a 1983 constitutional amendment that effectively outlawed abortion. From as far away as Sydney and Tokyo and Los Angeles, members of the Irish diaspora returned home to vote on May 25 in favor of a woman’s right to choose, detailing their journeys on social media. The voters, arriving to the whoops of supportive crowds, served as a direct parallel to the women who for decades took lonely journeys out of their home country to get abortions.

“We have voted to provide compassion where there was once a cold shoulder, and to offer medical care where once we turned a blind eye,” Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said in a speech the morning the results were announced.

Last month, in Argentina, a bill to decriminalize abortion narrowly passed the lower chamber of that nation’s Congress, and is currently under debate in the Argentinian Senate. The decriminalization campaign was driven by a multiyear wave of feminist activism, in a movement entitled “Ni Una Menos (Not One Less),” that has demanded a stop to the needless deaths of women at the hands of male partners and as a result of unsafe illegal abortions. Argentina’s vote comes just under a year after Chile voted to reverse its absolute prohibition on abortion, despite vehement opposition from Catholic groups in that country.

In Argentina, jubilant crowds of women in city squares celebrated the passage of the decriminalization bill, wearing the signature green bandanas of Argentina’s abortion rights movement; in Ireland, videos of women weeping with joy at the referendum’s outcome flooded social networks.

Here in the United States, the mood among women’s rights advocates is justly somber. With more than 60 percent of the public indicating, in recent polls, that they wish to see the decision remain intact, the coalition in charge of the government seems to be salivating to fully strip women of access to abortion, at which a series of increasingly restrictive state laws has already chipped away. The legal groundwork for a challenge to Roe is already being laid. In Iowa, Louisiana, and Mississippi, state legislatures have advanced strict limits on abortion that could wind up being the instruments in a Supreme Court case — one decided by a conservative majority.

This prospect is the fulfillment of an official promise by the administration. In February, Vice President Mike Pence told the Susan B. Anthony List & Life Issues Institute, an anti-abortion group, that a change to “the center of American law” would happen “in our time.” Now it’s July, and that time seems near at hand.

But a change in the law is only that. It doesn’t change human nature —  or desire, or love, or desperation, or disease, or loss.

There are as many ways to get pregnant as there are to have sex: in bliss, in recklessness, in despair, in traumatic circumstances. The end of legal abortion in states across the country won’t end rape or domestic abuse; it won’t create more money in families’ budgets for more children; it won’t make birth control more effective or affordable. The end of legal abortion doesn’t mean the end of the consumption of alcohol or drugs; it doesn’t mean the end of heated trysts on stairways and in offices and parking lots and narrow, overheated bedrooms. There were extramarital affairs before 1973 and there will be extramarital affairs after Roe is overturned. The end of legal abortion is merely the end of legal abortion. It won’t change the number of wombs yearly inseminated in this country. 

But when Roe is overturned, more women will die.

There will be unwanted pregnancies carried to term with severe complications or postpartum infections. There will be knitting needles and coat hangers and off-label pills. There will be secret decisions, with a bank balance open and a tear in the heart; there will be fledgling careers to preserve, marriages to save, traumas to expunge. There will be herbs, forceful massage, a sudden fall down a flight of stairs. And some of the women who do what they feel they must will die. Every year, across the world, nearly 70,000 women die as a result of complications from unsafe abortions. A country without legal abortion is not a country without abortion. It’s just a country in which more women die.

To know this is to know that what we face is a long walk into the dark, in the cynical, silencing, hideous, hypocritical name of the “sanctity of life.”

And the true cruelty of such laws becomes more clear when you know — as we know, because history is open to us such as it never has been before, a few taps of a keyboard away — that such laws always, always, always spare the wealthy.

There are planes to different states, just a few hundred dollars away. There are other countries with sterile, friendly clinics for the right man’s mistress, the right man’s wife, the right man’s daughter. There will be salvation, for those who can afford it, in the guise of a well-timed vacation to Europe or Canada.

For millions of American women, Roe v. Wade has already been functionally overturned. More than 400 state laws have been passed to restrict abortion since 2010, when a wave of conservative legislators and governors took power. The theoretical existence of a right means little to those who have no ability to act upon it —  those who lack the financial ability or personal flexibility to travel long distances to receive access to abortion care. There is one abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi, for a population of almost 3 million. Mississippi has one of the highest pregnancy-related mortality rates in the United States, and it is rising.

What’s more: Every law in the United States is enforced unevenly across racial lines. Anti-abortion laws won’t buck that trend. What woman is punished and what woman goes free; what woman lives, what woman dies; what woman can feed her children and what woman cannot — in America, little about these answers is incidental.

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It’s difficult to know all this without feeling pure doom; difficult to look at your belly and know that its flesh will be beyond your control, that the soft, yielding, and familiar terrain of your own body will be bound by laws made by men who know their actions might cause you to die, and who do not care.

But all along the long, dark walk we face, there will be those who risk everything to help, in the tradition of those who have battled unjust governance throughout history. There will be women who fight in the streets and in the courts and in state legislatures. There are already networks of abortion funds, some hyper-local, some national, that finance the secret trips and the stays in the motels and the bus tickets and the plane tickets and the journeys home. There are open purses ready to pay the price for a woman not to have a child if she doesn’t want to. There will be women who swap abortifacient recipes; there will be, as there were before Roe, midwives and chiropractors and family doctors who will perform the procedure nearly a quarter of American women have already experienced, in secret, and under legal threat. Perhaps there will be a revival of the secret feminist network that provided underground abortions to the women of Chicago: All you had to do was pick up the phone, dial a certain numberand ask for Jane.

In time, and after many deaths, and irreversible losses; after blood, and pain, and shame, and careers prematurely ended, and women killed for getting pregnant, and women dying in childbirth, the ban — like Ireland’s and Chile’s — will be lifted. Any path to legislative reversal on the subject will be paved with women’s bodies. We know this. The “sanctity of life” touted by opponents of abortion is extended to an embryo but not to the woman who carries it. And that’s why, despite the seeming inevitability of a federal ban on abortion, women and the men who fuck them and love them will fight to the end; and if and when such a ban is imposed, we will claw our way out of that darkness, until we walk in free bodies again.

Categories
Healthcare Immigration Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

’Like Being Inside a 180-Foot Bell‘: A Statue of Liberty Protester Remembers

The dozen-odd members of Rise and Resist who dropped an “ABOLISH I.C.E.” banner from the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal on Wednesday — and the one member who took it upon herself to climb onto the statue itself and announce she wouldn’t leave until “all the children are released” (she lasted nearly three hours until NYPD Emergency Service Unit officers brought her down) — were part of a long tradition of protests at the statue, which as both a symbol of immigrant welcome and the second-tallest female statue in the Americas contains a multitude of symbolism.

In 1970, demonstrators with the National Organization for Women draped a sixty-foot banner from the statue reading “Women of the World Unite!” The following year, members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War spent forty-two hours inside the statue’s crown, festooning it with banners. (VVAW repeated the feat in 1976.) In 1977, Puerto Rican nationalists draped a Puerto Rican flag across the statue’s brow, locking themselves inside for eight hours to call for the release of four independentistas in prison for shooting at members of Congress from a Capitol gallery.

By 1991, the threat of the moment was to abortion rights, as the Supreme Court had ruled in Rust v. Sullivan that the Bush administration could impose its gag rule forbidding women’s health clinics that received Title X family-planning funds from counseling women on abortion. On July 29 of that year, a group of activists with Women’s Health Action and Mobilization (WHAM!) and AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) dropped a pair of banners from the statue, one from the pedestal reading “Abortion Is Healthcare, Healthcare Is a Right” and one from the statue’s crown reading “No Choice, No Liberty.” 

The banners were abducted by national park security, but the activists slipped away unnoticed. In the wake of Wednesday’s protests, two of the 1991 demonstrators shared with the Voice their recollections of the 1991 statue protest, and their thoughts on its spiritual descendants. 

“We were talking about actions we might take in response,” recalls Dana Luciano, at the time a WHAM! activist and currently an English professor at Georgetown University. (Full disclosure: I was also a member of WHAM! at that time.) “And someone said, ‘We should gag the Statue of Liberty!’ It was kind of spontaneous — I don’t think most of us knew, at the time, about the history of protest at the site. I think we just thought that as a high-visibility female figure, the statue would be a good place to stage a feminist action. It was thrilling to learn afterwards that we were part of a much longer history of protest there.”

As it turned out, an ACT UP affinity group called Action Tours — best known for ambushing Dan Rather’s CBS Evening News during the Gulf War with chants of “Fight AIDS, not Arabs!” — had already been scoping out the statue as a site for protest; the two groups soon joined forces. Around 35 people participated at the statue itself, Luciano recalls, with perhaps a dozen more working on press and legal support.

“Early on we’d realized that actually gagging the statue wasn’t feasible, so we decided to drop banners from the crown — the idea being to cover the statue’s face, like a mourning veil — and the base,” she recalls. “It took about three trips to the crown to figure out how to open the windows so we could hang a banner. It was windy up there, so we weighted the bottom of that banner with a heavy chain sewed inside a few layers of fabric so we wouldn’t damage the statue, which would have carried a felony charge.”

On the day of the action, the activists showed up carrying the two large banners, cinder blocks to weigh down the one that would hang from the pedestal, and additional tools. “We get up there and use special hardware to open the windows the way they’re supposed to be opened — no damage was done,” says Jon Winkleman, an Action Tours member at the time. One activist held a helium balloon in front of a security camera to block its view — “it turned out it wasn’t even on,” says Luciano — while others blocked the steps to the crown to buy more time.

“The banner got tangled, so I’m sticking my head out, reaching outside the statue to untangle it,” recalls Winkleman. “And it’s like — oh my god, I’m touching the Statue of Liberty’s nose! Which was the coolest thing in the world.”

One reason the demonstrators had been particularly careful not to break windows or otherwise harm the statue, Winkleman says, is that they had discovered that causing over $2,000 in damages could be considered a felony: “If you do any type of scratch, they can always claim $2,000 worth of damage.” 

“But as soon as we got the banner up, it started blowing around and the chain, despite the wrapping, started banging against the statue,” says Luciano. “Since the statue is made of metal it was like being inside a 180-foot bell — it was kind of terrifying. As we ran down the steps to the base, one of our members shouted, ‘Felony!’ each time it rung. By the time we got to the base, someone had pulled it inside, unnerved, I guess, by the noise.” (The Associated Press credited a Park Service ranger with hauling the banner inside after about five minutes.)

The group that draped the large banner off the pedestal had fewer problems, she recalls — “except that some of them had gift wrapped their cinder blocks to hide them in case their bags were searched, so that delayed things a bit. People looking on were actually pretty excited — some of them started taking pictures. One man asked if they were from Greenpeace.”

Eventually, all the activists joined the crowds of tourists on departing ferries. “We were about to get on the boat, and they grabbed this woman who wasn’t part of us, and they were going to arrest or question her,” says Winkleman. “And then her husband pulls out a badge — he was an off-duty cop.” No arrests were ever made.

Of course, 1991 was a less security-heavy time, when lugging cinder blocks on a ferry to a national monument was less likely to raise eyebrows. At this year’s protest, Luciano notes, everyone was arrested, not just the statue climber.

“With CBS, the moment we did that, they changed their security badges to have a little radio transmitter in it, so you couldn’t fake them,” says Winkleman. CBS staff, he recalls, immediately nicknamed the new cards “ACT UP badges.”

“9-11 definitely had a chilling effect on protest, but the wheels were in motion long before,” Luciano says. “In New York City, for instance, the Giuliani administration was committed to squashing dissent from the beginning. They went after civil disobedience activists especially hard, making sure the arresting officers had them put through the system rather than just giving desk appearance tickets.”

Still, she’s cheered to see that direct action is alive and well despite the heightened security state. “Black Lives Matter, Occupy, Standing Rock — these are and were sustained direct-action movements. Almost 600 women were arrested in D.C. last Thursday in the Senate office building; six senior citizens were arrested Friday for blocking the ICE offices in Philadelphia,” says Luciano. “The woman who climbed the statue yesterday made me remember Bree Newsome, who climbed the South Carolina Capitol to take down the Confederate flag there in 2015.”

And, adds Winkleman, in many ways getting news of a protest out to the public is much easier than it was in 1991, when activists had to hire a helicopter to shoot video of the event. (The weather was bad, and it arrived minutes too late.) “You look at the social media, the live-streaming online that happened yesterday — I wish we had that back then,” he says. “So yeah, things are different: They can’t do what we did back then, but we can’t do what they can do now. And I’m sure some other activists will find a way to do something even more spectacular.”

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Right Tries Not to Clap Hands Too Gleefully About Abortion Rights Repeal After Kennedy’s Exit

One thing you can say about the brutal Trump era: It’s made conservatives more frank about how eager they are to destroy liberalism and anyone protected by it. While some of the brethren tried, ineffectively, to conceal their glee at Wednesday’s retirement announcement by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, many popped champagne at the imminent hope of realizing one of their life dreams: the repeal of Roe v. Wade and — who knows? — maybe other progressive legal decisions as well.

For decades there’s been a divide in the Republican Party between hardcore conservatives who seek to appoint only dedicated Roe assassins as SCOTUS justices, and go-along electeds who often put through less ferocious nominees. Most maddening for the hardcores has been that it seemed one could never tell who’d do what — the true believer Reagan, for example, put in Sandra Day O’Connor and Kennedy, while the alleged moderate George H.W. Bush gave us the fire-breathing, sexual-harassing Clarence Thomas.

Kennedy has written majority opinions in several cases that tilted the left’s way, such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which derailed the anti-Roe campaign at a key moment (though, as hardcore pro-lifers know, it also allowed red states to limit abortion rights); Lawrence v. Texas, which did away with sodomy laws; and Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage decision. This has made Kennedy a wingnut hate object; Robert Bork, the lunatic Democrats blocked from the court in 1987, snarled in 2005 that Kennedy’s Lawrence decision was a “vaporing” that had not “the remotest basis in the actual Constitution,” and wingnut doyenne Phyllis Schlafly called for Kennedy to be impeached.

On Saturday the New York Times’ Ross Douthat echoed Bork, denouncing Kennedy’s Casey ruling as a “vapid Emersonian effusion,” and claiming that Kennedy’s rulings had been “imperial” (Douthat used the word six times) and “without a particularly coherent constitutional theory” — as proven by his decisions that Douthat disliked. Douthat also called Kennedy “the modern court’s most ‘neoliberal’ justice, embracing corporate freedom and sexual freedom as a kind of unity,” which is bad because “freedom of capital and genitals is not enough for human flourishing.” How d’ya like that for constitutionalism! I believe it’s from the Federalist No. 51.

So Kennedy’s announced departure has the brethren very excited; but, being aware of polls that show two-thirds of American citizens are against overturning Roe, the more mainstream ones sought to cool it down a bit.

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Republican senator Lindsey Graham, for example, assured Chuck Todd that “one of the concepts that really means a lot in America is stare decisis — that means you don’t overturn precedent unless there’s a good reason.” His colleague Susan Collins said an anti-Roe justice would “not be acceptable” to her; but those of us who recall her maladroit defense of her tax bill vote as part of a deal to defend Obamacare stabilizers — which were then cut by the administration anyway — will not be comforted.

Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote at the Washington Post that though the new SCOTUS would bring “weakening of Roe’s pro-choice absolutism” — see, it’s not reducing your rights, it’s rescuing you from absolutism! — “the availability of abortion has become a deeply entrenched social expectation,” so “a democratically determined outcome in most places would probably involve very few restrictions on early abortions.” This will certainly comfort the women of Mississippi, a state that currently holds the (soon-to-be-broken) record for shortest legal abortion window at fifteen weeks, and which has only a single abortion clinic. Think how they’ll benefit from their new freedom from absolutism.

But the really important thing, Gerson wrote, is that though Trump is “an economic illiterate…[and] an easily manipulated tyro” and his policies are “condemning Republicans to future defeat,” still, “when it comes to the choice of judges…Trump is firmly in the GOP mainstream.” The system works!

Even some hardcore wingnuts who frequently roar that Planned Parenthood is Zygote Auschwitz tried to act dainty about Roe’s demise. After all, soothed Alex Parker at RedState, it “wouldn’t do away with abortion; the decision would simply revert to the states.” Previously, Parker had referred to abortion as “the right to kill an unborn child,” and greeted the news of Kennedy’s retirement and the ensuing “possible review of abortion” with GIFs of high fives.

Inevitably Fox News brought it all back home: “Overturning Roe V Wade Is Being Used As A Scare Tactic By The Left To Block,” they headlined.

But everyone knows what the game is at this point: Trump’s basic deal with Republicans is clearly to fulfill all their wishes so they won’t impeach him, and to that end he has nominated judges approved by the ultra-right-wing Federalist Society — which returns the favor by speaking favorably of its brutish patron, and elsewise.

Also, while prior GOP presidents at least appeared to spare some thought for the long-term health of the Republic, Trump, to put it mildly, is only interested in personal enrichment and white supremacy. Being in addition, despite his marketing image and as proven by his presidency, a shitty dealmaker, he has a tendency to give away the store (so long as the assets are someone else’s) — as when, to use a particularly apposite example, he courted GOP voters in 2016 by declaring women who had abortions should be punished by law. (He backed off, presumably because of political considerations — but at present he has no reason to do so.)

Some conservatives surveyed the scene and dared to dream. At theocrat site First Things, R.R. Reno sang Glory Hallelujah: “The time has come to cleanse that stain and heal that wound,” he ululated. “Now is not the time for compromise or worries about breaking the peace that Roe has brought us. It was always a corrupt, immoral peace, which is not a peace worth preserving.” Helter Skelter, let’s fuck America up for Jesus!

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“As Kennedy, blessedly, vacates his seat,” preached the Washington Examiner, “the central mandate for the man or woman who will take his seat, and for all the justices, is to wipe away a disgrace that ranks alongside Dred Scott, and overtun [sic] Roe and Casey.”

At HotAir, Allahpundit said conservatives needn’t give a shit what cautious trimmers think: “If ever there were an issue where public opinion is worth ignoring on moral grounds, this is it.” Anyway, he added, politics are not a problem because once Roe is overturned there’ll be a “cooling-off period in which Americans gradually acclimate to the new political reality,” especially once the birthing pens are set up.

At the Washington Examiner, Kimberly Ross said overturning Roe, nice as that may be, wouldn’t stop all abortions right away — which she meant not as a consolation to liberals but as a warning that there was more judicial and legislative harrying yet to accomplish. “This isn’t to say,” Ross wrote, “conservatives should not get excited” — imagine all the forced births you will get! — but “pro-lifers should not trick themselves into believing such a thing means our mission is accomplished. The fact that America has been saturated by a sickening abortion mantra for decades means our work to permanently shift the culture of death will have just begun.” The birthing pens can help there, too, as salutary examples as well as in their more immediate purpose.

And the end of Roe won’t be all conservatives want out of the court, either. At the Federalist, Nathanael Blake wrote last week that, while everyone thinks the fight over gay marriage is over and even “younger conservatives may wonder why we fought over this at all,” he wasn’t ready to quit: “As a matter of constitutional law, the Obergefell decision was indefensible…a fundamentally autocratic, anti-democratic decision,” he wrote. “Justice Anthony Kennedy led the majority in playing philosopher-kings, rather than being judges.”

But soon Kennedy would be gone. “Today, we stand on the precipice of undoing the monstrous injustice of Roe v. Wade,” prayed Michael Brown at TownHall. “Who’s to say we won’t live to see the reversal of Obgergefell [sic] vs. Hodges, the Supreme Court’s overreaching decision to redefine marriage?… Let’s pray for God’s mercy on our nation, for the continuing turning of hearts towards life, and for righteous justices to adjudicate in our courts.”

How far back would they reach to uproot prior progressive victories? Given the increasingly further-right leadership of their party, they may decide many other concepts we take for granted are also “absolutist” and “imperial”; aren’t affirmative action and integration of public schools, for example, unfair to racist Americans? Wouldn’t the “culture of death” be easier to defeat if contraception weren’t so easy to get? “We find ourselves at what seems a surreal moment in American history,” said anti-abortion group Catholic Vote; the main difference between them and most of America is, they think that’s a good thing. Buckle up, everyone, and check that your voter registration and passport are both up to date.

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Health THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Trump Court’s Ruling on Anti-Abortion Centers Could Be Start of Assault on “Roe v. Wade”

Among a flurry of decisions on Tuesday, the Supreme Court overturned California’s law requiring so-called crisis pregnancy centers — outposts set up by anti-abortion groups to dissuade pregnant women from having the procedure — to inform women about what reproductive health services they can get elsewhere, on the grounds that it violates their First Amendment rights.

Advocates for women’s health immediately assailed the decision as enabling these centers to carry on with deceptive practices they’ve been using for decades to lure in unsuspecting women and then bombard them with anti-abortion propaganda.

“Because they aren’t real medical clinics, they’re able to avoid a lot of the regulation and oversight that legitimate healthcare providers are subject to,” Pilar Herrero, the human rights counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Voice before yesterday’s ruling. “This can make it really difficult for patients to understand what kind of care or services they’re actually able to receive at these places, and can also divert patients from accessing the real medical care that they need in a timely manner.”

The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, took on California’s Reproductive FACT Act, passed in 2015, which required that all licensed clinics that don’t provide a full range of reproductive care to post information about state-provided affordable reproductive care, including prenatal care, birth control, and abortions. The law also mandated that unlicensed clinics with no medical provider disclose that they were not licensed medical facilities.

While California presented the FACT Act as a truth-in-advertising measure, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates — a Virginia-based nonprofit that provides legal advice to anti-abortion centers — argued that the law violated centers’ First Amendment rights. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed, overturning two lower-court rulings that had upheld the California restrictions. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority that the law “targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”

Crisis pregnancy centers, which outnumber genuine women’s clinics nationwide by a large margin, have frequently been accused of providing inaccurate medical information. A 2015 study by NARAL Pro-Choice California that sent undercover investigators into CPCs found that 91 percent of the centers told the visiting women that abortions cause breast cancer, miscarriage, infertility, or “post-abortion depression.”

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Christina Chang, chief external affairs officer of Planned Parenthood of New York City, told the Voice that CPCs target pregnant women who are unsure about their options, and may be confused and looking for accurate information. By providing free services such as ultrasounds and pregnancy tests, she explains, these centers attempt to convince women that they are talking to a legitimate healthcare provider: “It’s really just an excuse to try to dissuade them from getting information that they need to make the best decision for themselves.”

Elizabeth Estrada, New York field and advocacy manager at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, noted that being propagandized by someone posing as a healthcare provider is especially troubling for women who are already facing cultural stigma or a lack of family support. “Being lied to by someone you think is going to support you in an already really difficult decision is hugely disappointing and hurtful,” she said.

As advocates mull over these concerns, anti-abortion organizations are applauding the decision. NIFLA celebrated the victory on its website, exclaiming, “VICTORY! The U.S. Supreme Court just handed down a 5-4 ruling on the NIFLA v. BECERRA case, overturning the coercive law that forced pro-life pregnancy centers to provide free advertising for tax-funded abortions.”

For New York City, which requires its roughly one dozen CPCs to post that they do not have a licensed medical provider on staff — a law that many of them have flouted — the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision is not immediately clear. NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue noted yesterday that the court said it would consider upholding a narrower law requiring centers to post that they’re not medical providers, which would seem to provide hope that New York City’s law would pass muster.

There’s also been some discussion that this ruling could provide an avenue for organizations to challenge “informed-consent” laws that require doctors to provide state-mandated information on abortions that can at times be incorrect. The Supreme Court’s NIFLA ruling, says Amy Myrick, staff attorney for judicial strategy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, tries to set aside these restrictions by “saying that they’re related to informed consent for a medical procedure — an area in which it’s permissible for the state to mandate speech,” even though presenting false and misleading information strays far from bona fide “informed consent.”

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And Hogue has also noted that even if this court case was fought on strictly First Amendment grounds, it’s likely only one step in a legal battle by opponents of reproductive rights to take advantage of the Trump Supreme Court to overturn legal abortion:

Reproductive rights legal advocates are currently working to identify which cases making their way through the lower courts are likely to present the next Supreme Court challenge to abortion rights. Anthony Kennedy’s impending retirement has never seemed more pivotal.

Categories
Equality Healthcare PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Trump’s Gag Rule and Alarm Over HIV Pill Are Partners in Sex Panic

I attended my first Pride in 1979, when I was seven years old. In preparation for the march, I made signs with my mom and her partner (now her wife; they got married in 2015 after 37 years together). Their signs were long, lofty, and political. The sign I made was inspired by a button I had seen on St. Patrick’s Day. It read: “Kiss me, I’m gay.”

My mom asked me if I wanted to switch signs with her — was that really the sign I wanted to carry myself? I had no idea why she was asking me this; my sign was better, so of course that was the one I wanted to carry. I admit that my seven-year-old self was almost embarrassingly straight; but to me, carrying the sign wasn’t an identity statement. It was an affiliative statement. I was claiming my place as part of this community, embracing its joy and its pain and its liberation and its struggle as my own. People kissed me all day (and they always asked first).

Almost forty years later, I have devoted the majority of my professional life to the care of the LGBTQ community in all its diversity. Most recently, I have been a staunch advocate for access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the daily pill that reduces risk of HIV infection by over 90 percent. I advocate for PrEP not only because it prevents new HIV infections, but also because it redefines the narrative around gay sexuality that emerged in the HIV era.

In spite of the tremendous gains that we have seen in LGBTQ liberation in the past decades, many still experience the threat of HIV infection as an ever-present shadow over their sexual lives. In our research with the Hunter HIV/AIDS Research Team, we have found that between 25 percent and 39 percent of HIV-negative gay men say they think about HIV all or most of the time in their daily lives, and between 29 percent and 46 percent say they think about HIV all or most of the time while they are having sex. This omnipresent burden of HIV is an underrecognized psychological tragedy of the epidemic.

But even less recognized is the way the threat of HIV infection has operated as a type of social control. Consciously or unconsciously, the constant threat of illness is presented to members of the LGBTQ community as the “cost” of their sexual expression and liberation. In other words, our society will tolerate your having “that kind” of sex, as long as you always remember you can die from it.

These words may seem harsh, but I believe they are critical to understanding the dynamics that have impeded PrEP rollout, including reluctance on the part of healthcare providers and systems to fully embrace it as a prevention strategy. PrEP provides relief from the burden of HIV threat, and many people report that taking PrEP allows them to fully experience intimacy and joy in sexuality without anxiety or fear. But lifting this burden also lifts social control over sexuality. In one of the first PrEP trainings I conducted for providers, one doctor said to me: “But wait — if we give this medication to gay men, they can have as much sex as they want and they won’t get HIV.” Concerns about making PrEP more widely available arise, in part, from discomfort with the notion of gay sex without a cost.

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The fight for PrEP availability and accessibility, then, is at its core a fight for sex positivity and true sexual liberation. Sex that’s free from the threat of HIV is not merely a side benefit of PrEP: It is a central good in itself. Ensuring access to PrEP is a statement that we — as a society, as a public health community — will not use the threat of illness as a tool for social or behavioral control over sexual expression.

At the same time, our society is facing another, parallel debate over health, sexuality, and social control. On June 1, the Trump administration, through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), proposed a new rule for the Title X program, the Public Health Service Act that funds family planning services in the United States. If adopted, this new “gag rule” will prohibit providers in Title X–funded settings from giving abortion referrals or even mentioning abortion as an option in their counseling of pregnant patients.

The new Trump rule would also remove a current regulation that requires Title X–funded settings to provide access to “medically approved” family planning services. The removal of this regulation will allow Title X funding for settings that offer only “natural” family planning methods (i.e., fertility awareness, also called the rhythm method) to patients seeking contraceptive services.

Fertility awareness can be an effective contraceptive method, but only if the individual using it abstains from sex for about fourteen days out of every month — that’s almost half the year. As such, when offered to the exclusion of other methods, natural family planning specifically restricts individuals’ ability to choose when and whether to have sex, unless they want to live with the constant threat of unintended pregnancy.

Social control over sexuality is, in fact, the explicit goal of restricting access to reproductive health services. Consider this quote from a 2011 interview with Sandy Rios, director of governmental affairs for the American Family Association, which supports the new gag rule:Why in the world would you encourage your daughters, and your granddaughters…to have unrestricted, unlimited sex anytime, anywhere, and that, somehow if you prevent pregnancy, that somehow you’ve helped them.” Just as the doctor at my PrEP training was afraid to give people the opportunity to have sex without fear of HIV infection, Rios is concerned that if we give people access to reproductive health services, they can have as much sex as they want and they won’t get pregnant.

If you care about access to PrEP — if you believe deeply in the sexual liberation it can facilitate — then you should care about access to birth control and abortion as well. Denying full access to reproductive health services, like denying access to PrEP, exerts social control over sexual expression by associating it with a threat (of HIV, of pregnancy) even though we have the biomedical means to alleviate that threat. And similar to the fight for PrEP access, these restrictions will fall hardest on people of color, who comprise more than half of all patients in Title X–funded health centers.

Stopping these proposed changes to Title X is an emergency. If the new regulations go into effect, more than 4,000 Title X health centers will be barred from providing comprehensive reproductive care to their more than 4 million patients. To help, you can learn more about the issue; post comments to HHS during the open comment period; tell your representatives how much you care about this issue; or give money to advocacy organizations that are fighting for reproductive justice.

The LGBTQ community has been my community since I was a child, and my affiliation remains strong in part because of our community’s passionate commitment to sexual freedom in all its diversity. I will be marching in this year’s Pride parade with my husband and my son, holding banners for my mother and her wife (whose marching days are behind them, but whose advocacy still burns bright). I hope you will stand with us in the fight for reproductive justice, which is part of sexual liberation for us all.

Dr. Sarit Golub is a professor of psychology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of City University of New York. She directs the Hunter HIV/AIDS Research Team (HART), which conducts interdisciplinary, community-based research.

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

One Bill Would Immediately Protect NY Abortion Rights, But Cuomo Wants a Constitutional Amendment

On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, draped in a pink sash, stood behind a pink-splashed podium and declared to a room full of women’s health advocates his intention to add an amendment to the state Constitution, which would protect New York women in the event that Donald Trump achieves his deranged dream of repealing Roe v Wade.

“As they pull on women’s rights, we’re going to push back on women’s rights,” he said as he announced the proposal. “Let’s put it on the ballot, and let’s let the people decide.”

The crowd shrieked with appreciation, and also presumably terror. Their fear is well-founded: The next day, Trump announced his pick of Colorado-based appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch has a reliable history of opposing women’s rights, most recently in his decision to support Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. He also sided with Hobby Lobby when it came to private companies’ ability to deny women access to contraceptives, writing that “all of us face the problem of complicity. All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others.” (The wrongdoing of others being, of course, forcing women to become pregnant.)

On the surface, Cuomo’s announcement is a positive step for women petrified their access to abortions and health care is going to be set aflame under a Trump regime. Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for the governor, said that while the details of Cuomo’s measure will be released “shortly,” the amendment will seek to codify the language of Roe v. Wade into the state’s Constitution. In this way, New York women will have their basic rights protected regardless of the atrocities perpetuated by the federal government.

But for a constitutional amendment to pass in New York, it must not only be approved by the legislature twice in successive terms, but win the majority approval of voters. Another tactic, as reported by DNAinfo, requires voters to agree to hold a constitutional convention, elect delegates and ratify the amendment. The earliest the issue could conceivably be brought to voters isn’t until 2019, and by then it could be too late for many women.

State Senator Liz Krueger, a founding co-chair of the New York State Bipartisan Legislative Pro-Choice Caucus, told the Voice she has not seen the text of Cuomo’s proposed amendment, but she is very familiar with the already extant Reproductive Health Act, for which she is a co-sponsor. The act, which would modernize and strengthen New York state’s pitifully out-of-date abortion laws, has passed the Assembly but still requires 32 votes to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate. Cuomo’s political muscle would be well-used advancing the bill, she said.

“I am not saying I am opposed to an amendment,” Krueger said, noting that she would first need to see it before deciding whether to support it. Still, she continued, “The right answer for New York now is to pass the Reproductive Health Act,” which she said would be fast tracked with “the right political will and effort.”

When it comes down to it, New York’s abortion laws lag far behind many other states. This is thanks in part to its progressivism: Current New York legislation was passed in 1970, three years ahead of Roe v. Wade. The issue is that the law, according to Krueger, is a bad one, written at a time before anyone could have predicted the twists and turns the abortion debate would take.

While it does legalize abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and beyond if a woman’s life is determined to be at risk, it fails to offer adequate protections to providers who perform abortions after 24 weeks. In several instances, women have died trying to travel out-of-state for those abortions, having failed to find a provider in New York.

“These are women who desperately want to carry to term and have a healthy baby, and are told very late in the pregnancy ‘You’re going to die if we don’t remove this now,’” Krueger said.

So while New York’s laws have needed updating for years, the threat of the repeal of Roe v. Wade increases the level of urgency dramatically. New York can’t continue to rely on other state’s services, particularly since it’s unclear what will be left of them if federal abortion protections are obliterated.

“It’s been unbelievably outrageous to me that we have laws that are so antiquated and bad that women would be better off in what are seen as anti-choice red states,” Krueger said.

Asked whether the governor could both support the RHA and the amendment, Fashouer sent the Voice the following statement:

“The Governor has and continues to support a woman’s fundamental right to make her own reproductive health choices. That’s why the Governor supports the Reproductive Health Act and codifying Roe v. Wade into state law – something he has championed for a number of years – and why he is also proposing we enshrine these critical protections for women in the New York State Constitution.”

Doug Muzzio, a professor of political science at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, told DNAinfo that he suspects Cuomo’s proposal is just a craven attempt to win praise.

“Cynically, he did it so we wouldn’t have to deal with the current legislation and he puts it off for two years or more,” he said. “It gives him kudos for his stand, but it’s not going to happen.”

Krueger hopes this isn’t the case — but she’s not holding her breath.

“I never make an assumption about what the governor’s position is,” she said.