Thursday, July 31, 2008

A New Attack on Birth Control

Wednesday 30 July 2008
The Boston Globe | Editorial

With just a few months left in office, President Bush is still doing the bidding of social conservatives who oppose women's reproductive freedoms. Under the guise of rules to protect antiabortion nurses and doctors from discrimination in hiring, a proposed new regulation would expand the definition of abortion to include any form of contraception that can work by stopping implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. This can include common birth-control pills, emergency contraception, and the intra-uterine device, or IUD. Doctors who refuse to perform abortions for reasons of personal conscience already are protected by law.

The potential impact of this new rule on the more than 500,000 hospitals, family planning clinics, and medical offices that receive any form of federal funding could be dramatic. The rule could also undercut many state laws - including one in Massachusetts requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception for rape victims - and laws requiring prescription drug insurance plans to include contraceptives. Massachusetts passed such a law in 2002.

The draft proposed rule highlights the fact that many antiabortion groups also oppose one good method of preventing the unplanned pregnancies that lead to abortions - birth control. At some point in their lives, 98 percent of US women use birth control.

The proposed rule, while claiming to protect the rights of nurses and doctors, would interfere with patients' rights. A woman seeking treatment could be denied birth control and not even be aware that the service was available - only denied to her because of the unexpressed personal beliefs of the practitioner.

Last November, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said gynecologists must provide "accurate and unbiased information" to patients and "have the duty to refer patients in a timely manner to other providers" if the doctors do not want to perform an abortion or prescribe birth control. The US secretary of health and human services, Michael Leavitt, said he thought this statement went too far in forcing doctors to choose between their beliefs and the prospect of professional sanctions.

The administration does not need approval of Congress to put this rule into effect. But about 100 members of the House, including all representatives from this state except Stephen Lynch of South Boston, have signed a letter protesting it. In the Senate, Patty Murray of Washington and Hillary Clinton of New York are leading the opposition. The administration should take heed and drop its ideological attack on contraception.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ovulation moment caught on camera

BBC News

A human egg has been filmed in close-up emerging from the ovary for the first time, captured by chance during a routine operation.

Fertile women release one or more eggs every month, but until now, only animal ovulation has been recorded in detail.

Gynaecologist Dr Jacques Donnez spotted it in progress during a hysterectomy.

The pictures, published in New Scientist magazine, were described as "fascinating" by a UK fertility specialist.

Human eggs are produced by follicles, fluid-filled sacs on the side of the ovary, which, around the time of ovulation, produce a reddish protrusion seen in the pictures.

The egg comes from the end of this, surrounded by a jelly-like substance containing cells.

The egg itself is only the size of a full-stop, and the whole ovary, which contains many immature eggs, just a couple of inches long.

They belonged to a 45-year-old Belgian woman, and Dr Donnez, from the Catholic University of Louvain, told New Scientist that the pictures would help scientists understand the mechanisms involved.

He said that some theories had suggested an "explosive" release for the egg, but the ovulation he witnessed took 15 minutes to complete.

Professor Alan McNeilly, from the Medical Research Council's Human Reproduction Unit in Edinburgh, said that this fitted with his own research into the ovulation process.

He said: "It really is a fascinating insight into ovulation, and to see it in real life is an incredibly rare occurrence.

"It really is a pivotal moment in the whole process, the beginnings of life in a way."


(Note from blog mistress: Well, not exactly, BBC News,'s actually just ovulation. Not the beginning of life. When one makes the leap that ovulation is the beginning of life, does one then imply that women are capable of parthenogenesis? If that's what the BBC is trying to tell me then, woohoo! I am going to harvest all of my eggs to raise a feminist clone army and we are going to take over the world!)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Birth Control=Abortion? Yes, According to Dept. of Health & Human Svcs.

HHS Moves to Define Contraception as Abortion
By Cristina Page
Created Jul 15 2008 - 3:02pm
RH Reality Check

In a spectacular act of complicity with the religious right, the Department of Health and Human Services Monday released a proposal that allows any federal grant recipient to obstruct a woman's access to contraception. In order to do this, the Department is attempting to redefine many forms of contraception, the birth control 40% of Americans use, as abortion. Doing so protects extremists under the Weldon and Church amendments. Those laws prohibit federal grant recipients from requiring employees to help provide or refer for abortion services. The "Definitions" section of the HHS proposal states,

Abortion: An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. There are two commonly held views on the question of when a pregnancy begins. Some consider a pregnancy to begin at conception (that is, the fertilization of the egg by the sperm), while others consider it to begin with implantation (when the embryo implants in the lining of the uterus). A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that 49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term "abortion." Those who believe pregnancy begins at implantation believe the term "abortion" only includes the destruction of a human being after it has implanted in the lining of the uterus.


The proposal continues,


Both definitions of pregnancy inform medical practice. Some medical authorities, like the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association, have defined the term "established pregnancy" as occurring after implantation. Other medical authorities present different definitions. Stedman's Medical Dictionary, for example, defines pregnancy as "[t]he state of a female after conception and until the termination of the gestation." Dorland's Medical Dictionary defines pregnancy, in relevant part, as "the condition of having a developing embryo or fetus in the body, after union of an oocyte and spermatozoon.


Up until now, the federal government followed the definition of pregnancy accepted by the American Medical Association and our nation's pregnancy experts, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is: pregnancy begins at implantation. With this proposal, however, HHS is dismissing medical experts and opting instead to accept a definition of pregnancy based on polling data. It now claims that pregnancy begins at some biologically unknowable moment (there's no test to determine if a woman's egg has been fertilized). Under these new standards there would be no way for a woman to prove she's not pregnant. Thus, any woman could be denied contraception under HHS' new science.

The other rarely discussed issue here is whether hormonal contraception even does what the religious right claims. There is no scientific evidence that hormonal methods of birth control can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. This argument is the basis upon which the religious right hopes to include the 40% of the birth control methods Americans use, such as the pill, the patch, the shot, the ring, the IUD, and emergency contraception, under the classification "abortion." Even the "pro-life" movement's most respected physicians cautioned the movement about making these claims. In 1999, the physicians--who, like the movement at large, define pregnancy as beginning at fertilization-- released an open letter [1]to community stating: "Recently, some special interest groups have claimed, without providing any scientific rationale, that some methods of contraception may have an abortifacient effect...The 'hormonal contraception is abortifacient' theory is not established fact. It is speculation, and the discussion presented here suggests it is error...if a family, weighing all the factors affecting their own circumstances, decides to use this modality, we are confident that they are not using an abortifacient."

As the HHS proposal proves, the absence of fact or evidence does not slow anti-abortion movement attempts to classify hormonal contraception as abortion. With HHS' proposal they have struck gold. Anyone working for a federal clinic, or a health center that receives federal funding--even in the form of Medicaid--and would like to prevent a woman from accessing most prescription birth control methods has federal protection to do so. As the HHS proposal details,

Because the statutes that would be enforced through this regulation seek, in part, to protect individuals and institutions from suffering discrimination on the basis of conscience, the conscience of the individual or institution should be paramount in determining what constitutes abortion, within the bounds of reason. As discussed above, both definitions of pregnancy are reasonable and used within the scientific and medical community. The Department proposes, then, to allow individuals and institutions to adhere to their own views and adopt a definition of abortion that encompasses both views of abortion.


So HHS proposes that anyone can enforce his or her own definition of abortion "within the bounds of reason." And, it would seem the bounds are pretty far flung. Most dangerously, perhaps, this new rule establishes a legal precedent that may eventually be used as a basis for banning the most popular forms of birth control along with what is, in fact, abortion.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Women of Color Demand Justice: Say NO to Operation Save America

By SPARK Reproductive Justice Now and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective

The week of July 12-19 2008, Operation Save America, a violent anti-choice and racist organization, will fill the city of Atlanta, GA with their message of hate and terror. During this time we call on women of color, our allies and reproductive justice and social justice activists to Stand for Justice and Say NO to Operation Save America.

As leaders, mothers, partners, students, and beyond women of color are faced with intricate realities that shape our lives. For all of us that reality includes making decisions about our bodies, our lives, and our communities. For some of us that means we choose abortion. We unapologetically support women of color as creators of their own futures and, in creating our paths of autonomy support women's access to safe and legal abortion. Our struggle for abortion access is anchored in our belief in reproductive justice or the complete economic, physical, social, and political well-being and power to make the best decision for our bodies, our families, and our communities.

Abortion has always been a part of our lives. As healers, midwives, enslaved, free, colonized, and imprisoned people, women of color have and continue to create a story of resilience and resistance in which abortion, parenting, adoption, foster care and beyond have all played a part. We will not allow Operation Save America to reduce our lives into a simplistic sound bite that points the finger solely at abortion and not at the impact of war, poor education and healthcare to name a few. We resist our stories and our legacies being co-opted by this group. We denounce images of our children used as tokens by a mostly White group to justify their cause.

Operation Save America continues to play on a history of shaming and blaming women of color. As reproductive justice advocates and activists, we recognize our choices are dictated by our circumstances; and the discussion regarding abortion requires that we talk honestly about racism, health care, education, sexuality, and poverty. OSA's presence is just another overt reign of terror felt by women of color and our communities by an organization whose membership and message aim only to point the finger without addressing the real issues that impact the lives of women of color and our families.

For this week and beyond, women of color and our allies unite to say NO to OSA. Calling on the prophetic traditions of the Black church, civil rights movement, and our women of color's historical commitment to freedom and liberation, we have a firm understanding that fight for our bodily autonomy, the safety of our communities, and the demise of oppression and exploitation requires that everyone Stand for Justice and Say NO to Operation Save America.

Med schools: Next abortion battleground

Stressful work environment since Roe may dissuade many from becoming providers.
Last update: July 14, 2008 - 10:57 AM
Star Tribune

Sara Stoesz describes the latest ruling by the Eighth Circuit Court as an additional obstacle to access to legal abortion care ("In South Dakota, a blow to abortion rights," July 2).

With the strictest laws in the nation, South Dakota has been a bellwether state for the erosion of reproductive rights. Now the court's approval of a law requiring what doctors must tell their patients gives other states hell-bent on limiting abortion another way to drive a chink into Roe v. Wade. But if you think the threat to choice is coming from the state legislatures, court rulings or who's appointed to the Supreme Court, you're missing the real battle -- which may already be lost.

First, some history.

In 1967, my home state of Colorado became the first to reform its abortion law, permitting abortions if the pregnant woman's life or physical or mental health were endangered, if the fetus would be born with a severe physical or mental defect, or if the pregnancy had resulted from rape or incest. This same year, my high school girl friend -- her family rigidly fundamentalist, mine Catholic -- thought she was pregnant. Although it proved not to be the case, I still remember how isolated, powerless and bereft of options we felt, living in the place with the greatest reproductive choice in the country.

Other states began reforming or repealing antiabortion laws, most along the lines of Colorado's. In 1970, two years before the Roe v. Wade ruling, Alaska, Hawaii, New York and Washington made abortion legal. All but New York imposed a 30-day residency requirement for women seeking an abortion.

But if you were pregnant in say, a small Colorado town, without money or connections, and wanted a legal abortion, you might as well have lived on the moon.

According to an analysis by The Alan Guttmacher Institute, just over 100,000 women did leave their own state to obtain a legal abortion in New York City in the year before the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. The institute found an estimated 50,000 women traveled more than 500 miles to obtain a legal abortion in New York City; nearly 7,000 women traveled more than 1,000 miles, and some 250 traveled more than 2,000 miles, from places as far as Arizona, Idaho and Nevada.

The official line today is that if some states backtrack and limit abortion, it will remain legal in others. But some people who remember the old days aren't comforted. They remember how it used to be.

I don't have firm statistics, but I would say most of the physicians providing abortion services in Minnesota today are my contemporaries or older. That is, people who experienced the days of illegal abortion and the complications that ensued. That is, doctors within a decade of retirement. The late Dr. Jane Hodgson, who tested Minnesota's law by deliberately performing an illegal abortion in 1970, continued to perform abortions until age 76, traveling from St. Paul to Duluth, because doctors there would not. She was born in 1915 and reached reproductive maturity about the year nearly 2,700 women in America died from reported self-induced or illegal abortions.

Most of the subsequent generations of doctors, including those who completed OB-GYN residencies in the early '80s who will soon be leaving practice, received no training in terminating pregnancies, and the attitude in medical schools still seems to be "don't ask, don't tell." Residents who want to learn about the full range of women's health issues are free to arrange their own training, if they can find someone to provide it. The barriers don't just involve learning medical procedures that are not mentioned in class; there are also issues about malpractice coverage and getting institutional approval.

Today's medical residents were born in post-Reagan America, went to college in during the Rehnquist/Scalia era and have only known a post-Roe existence. Faced with roadblocks in their already stressful training regimens, even strongly prochoice residents may not pursue this on their own.

Meanwhile, practicing physicians who believe in choice may advise patients about all their options in handling a pregnancy, but they aren't going to provide all the options -- especially without having the training. But also because of outright harassment, fear of bad publicity or concern for their family's safety, they have quietly decided to let reproductive freedom become not just the patient's decision, but the patient's problem.

We may think the abortion issue will be decided contentiously on the Capitol steps, in Supreme Court cloisters or on the Planned Parenthood sidewalks. But more likely, Roe v. Wade will be nullified where none of us have any voice, by a medical profession with an ever-diminishing memory of the past -- and with fewer and fewer physicians who have the skills to keep choice a reality.

Charlie Quimby writes about community, values, perception and politics at Across the Great Divide. He is married to a physician.

Democratic Party's Stance On Abortion

Opinion Piece Examines Democratic Party's Stance On Abortion
Medical News Today
09 Jul 2008

Suggesting to women that the Democratic Party's "commitment to abortion rights is what should drive their vote," while simultaneously suggesting that "given the choice, having a baby is a more moral choice than abortion, will be understood for what it is: condescending and sexist," Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice, and Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, write in a Salon opinion piece.

Concerns among Democrats about how to deal with "disaffected" supporters of former presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) "involves focusing on women's understandable fears that a John McCain administration would limit abortion rights and even overturn Roe v. Wade" and promises that "Democrats will clearly do better," the authors write. They add, "That's why it's so remarkable that in recent weeks, Democrats, including Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, havesuggested that the party may need to take another crack at tempering its strong platform support for abortion rights by making 'abortion reduction ... a central Democratic Party plank in this election.'"

Kissling and Michelman write that reducing the need for abortion is "sound policy" and that the abortion rights movement has been supporting such an agenda for two decades. They question why the Democratic Party platform should be framed by groups "who seem ignorant of the fact that the platform already contains all the elements necessary to reduce abortion," such as access to family planning and promotion of an "economic program, health care reform and protections for women's equality that would, if enacted, make it more possible for women who become pregnant and wish to continue those pregnancies to keep and raise their children in a secure environment." Kissling and Michelman note that, ironically, Sojourners and Democrats for Life do not promote contraception as part of an abortion reduction strategy. They add, "The stakes for women could not be higher, and Democrats need to do better in defending the moral right of women to choose, in every way: to choose to have a baby, to choose to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, to choose to terminate a pregnancy."

Kissling and Michelman point out that two bills are "languishing" in Congress that focus on reducing the need for abortion: the Prevention First Act (S 21, HR 819) and the Reducing the Need for Abortion Initiative (HR 1074). "Moving these bills before the election will give us a yardstick by which to measure members of Congress' commitments to meeting women's needs while recognizing their rights," according to the authors. They add that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) could use his skills to garner support from Wallis and others to make "pregnancy and motherhood a real choice for everyone; to make sure abortion is a choice and never a grim default and, when it is a choice, is safe and legal and never stigmatized by Democrats." In addition, policies supporting women's rights must be a high priority for Obama, Kissling and Michelman write, adding that although "both men and women have a stake in women's well-being, women's preeminent role in developing policies that affect their lives must be a central commitment of the senator and the party." As "feminists who have proudly and enthusiastically supported Obama for some time, we are convinced that this is exactly the approach he will take," the authors write, concluding, "And while this approach is as old as feminism, it will be a breath of fresh air in the party" (Kissling/Michelman,Salon, 7/7).

Reprinted with kind permission from You can view the entire Daily Women's Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery here. The Daily Women's Health Policy Report is a free service of the National Partnership for Women & Families, published by The Advisory Board Company.

© 2008 The Advisory Board Company. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Brazil votes to keep abortion a crime

Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 10, 2008 (Brasillia)

Lawmakers in Brazil voted to keep abortion a crime, disappointing groups seeking to decriminalise an operation estimated to be carried out three million times a year in the country with the world's largest Catholic population.

The representatives in the congressional commission on the constitution and justice voted 30 to four against lifting the penal prohibition on abortion on Wednesday.

One of the deputies carried dolls and a baby's coffin to the session to underline his opposition to changing the law.

A pro-abortion organisation, Catholics for the Right to Decide, said it was disappointed but not surprised by the outcome.

''We expected this result against decriminalising abortion because there are totally opposed forces at work within the Congress,'' said a spokeswoman for the group, Dulce Xavier.

''They called a public audience to decide the issue and invited eight people opposed to abortion, six of them religious leaders, and only one health ministry official in favour,'' said Xavier.

While abortion is illegal in Brazil and can be punished by jail sentences, it is widely practiced.

Of the estimated three million terminations, most are conducted on married Catholics, according to a study by the universities of Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro state and the health ministry, which was published in 2008 in the press.

Many women die because of inadequate procedures or follow-up.

Brazilian law permits abortions only in cases of rape and where the mother risks dying in childbirth.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

South Dakota's Unbelievable New Abortion Law

Telling Doctors What To Think --
South Dakota's unbelievable new abortion law.
By Emily Bazelon
Posted Wednesday, July 2, 2008, at 6:43 PM ET

In 2005, South Dakota passed an unprecedented abortion law. The statute purports to be about ensuring that patients give informed consent. Planned Parenthood characterizes it differently: as an intrusion on the doctor-patient relationship, forcing doctors to give inaccurate medical facts and to be the state's ideological mouthpiece. Now, following a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, the law is about to go into effect for the first time. And the question is how it will change the experience of going to get an abortion—and whether it will open a new front in the abortion wars by encouraging other states to follow suit.

The South Dakota law requires doctors to give patients who come for an abortion a written statement telling them that "the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being," and that they have "an existing relationship with that unborn human being" that is constitutionally protected. (What does the constitutionally protected part mean? Who knows.) In addition, doctors are ordered to describe "all known medical risks of the procedure and statistically significant risk factors," including "depression and related psychological distress" and "increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide."

The idea behind the statute is that if you force women to confront the implications of an abortion, they'll be less likely to go through with it. That's what the "whole, separate, unique, living human being" language is about. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that a fetus is not a person, in the legal sense of the word, which is to say it doesn't have the same rights. So South Dakota couldn't order doctors to tell women that to have an abortion is to kill a person. But human being is a different term that's up for grabs, the drafters of the legislation decided.

This was the insight of a smart New Jersey lawyer named Harold Cassidy, who has represented women who've accused abortion providers of malpractice, and who helped draft South Dakota's statute. Cassidy also helped persuade state lawmakers that women might be scared out of having abortions if doctors were forced to enumerate the procedure's medical risks. This is where the idea of linking abortion to depression and increased risk of suicide comes in. Never mind that the weight of the medical evidence tilts heavily against the increased-suicide tie or that there's more evidence of a link between depression and unintended pregnancy—or simply giving birth—than between depression and abortion, according to most of the literature.

If you care about doctors' freedom of speech, or their responsibility to give accurate information to patients, the South Dakota statute looks pretty alarming. And yet by a vote of seven judges to four, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit managed to weave its way around these concerns last week. After sitting on the case for more than a year, the court instructed abortion clinics (actually, clinic, since there's only one in South Dakota) to put the law into effect in mid-July.

In a majority opinion by Judge Raymond Gruender, the court ruled only on the "human being" part of the statute—a challenge to the suicide provision is still pending before a lower court. (Planned Parenthood decided it could live with the depression provision because the law doesn't claim that abortion increases that risk.) Planned Parenthood argued that the state is legislating morality because to call a fetus a "whole, separate, unique, living human being" is an ideological statement, not a medical one. The Supreme Court has told the states that it's not for them to resolve when life begins—and it should certainly follow from this that they can't force any such resolution on doctors. As the 8th Circuit dissent by Judge Diana Murphy points out, the question "in some sense encompass[es] the whole philosophical debate about abortion."

But none of this swayed the majority. They bought the state's argument that the statute circumvents ideology by defining "human being," elsewhere in the statute, as "an individual living member of the species Homo sapiens, including the unborn human being during the entire embryonic and fetal ages from fertilization to full gestation." Presto, said the majority—with that definition, the "truthfulness and relevance" of the provision "generates little dispute." Yes, this logic is as tautological as it sounds. The legislature basically defined "human being" to include unborn human beings.

The idea that a fetus is whole and separate will probably be news to a lot of women who have carried one. But what's more distressing, because the majority's reasoning is so strained, is the assertion that by defining a phrase one way, a state can erase its ambiguity and the variety of perceptions people bring to it. It's one thing to say—as the case law the majority relies on here does—that a statutory definition binds judges and their interpretation of language. It's another entirely to say that when doctors tell women they are carrying a human being, that women will think, Oh, right, that means only the long, convoluted thing that the state says it does. Most patients won't think that, because they won't necessarily define "human being" the way the statute does. As Yale law professor Robert Post says in a 2007 article (PDF) in the University of Illinois Law Review, "If South Dakota were to enact a statute requiring physicians to inform abortion patients that they were destroying the 'soul' of their unborn progeny, and if it were explicitly to provide in the statute that 'soul' is defined as 'human DNA,' the evasion would be obvious." Instead, South Dakota has co-opted human being and attached its own meaning to it.

The 8th Circuit's decision to uphold the South Dakota law, even though it compels doctors to say things they don't believe, is in part the fault of Justice Anthony Kennedy. In his 2007 decision banning a method of late-term abortion, Kennedy worried a lot about women who regret having abortions. With paternalistic abandon, he wrote about their "distress" in terms of their "lack of information" about abortion. Kennedy was talking, in graphic specifics, about lack of information on the way a so-called partial-birth abortion unfolds. Whether or not he's right, these details have nothing to do with philosophical musings about whether the fetus is a human being. But that didn't stop the 8th Circuit from quoting him at length in the very different context of the South Dakota law.

The fraught claim that abortion harms women, which I've written about before, was languishing in legal Nowheresville until Kennedy unexpectedly raised it up and blessed it. Now that notion, and the small minority of women who attest to it, are a handy new tool for abortion opponents. The 8th Circuit includes six other states—Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and North Dakota. Laws that compel doctors' speech, as this one does, would now be legal in all those places, should state legislators adopt them. And if states in other regions want to try passing such laws, they'll have a great precedent to cite to the other circuit courts.

In the meantime, Planned Parenthood's lawyers and the state's lone abortion clinic in Sioux Falls have two more weeks to figure out what its doctors can legally and ethically say to the women they treat. "Our doctors are now being asked to say things they do not believe are true," says Sarah Stoesz, the head of Planned Parenthood in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Whatever you think about abortion, how is that a good thing?

Dr. Tiller Vindicated!


Feminist Daily News Wire
July 3, 2008

A Kansas Grand Jury adjourned on Wednesday without finding substantial evidence that Dr Tiller, a late-term abortion provider, violated any abortion laws. The Wichita Eagle reports that the grand jury was forced to convene by an anti-choice group, Kansas for Life. Kansas is one of six states that allow citizens to petition to convene a grand jury.

The District Attorney told the Wichita Eagle, "After six months of conducting an investigation … this Grand Jury has not found sufficient evidence to bring an indictment on any crime related to the abortion laws." The grand jury investigation had previously come before the Kansas Supreme Court over its attempts to subpoena confidential patient medical records.

Dr. Tiller is one of only a few late-term abortion providers in the country. According to Kansas and federal law, an abortion can only be performed after the 22 weeks if carrying the fetus to term would cause the woman "substantial and irreversible impairment," according to KWCH News. Dr. Tiller has consistently been targeted by anti-choice groups.

Media Resources: Wichita Eagle 7/3/2008, KWCH 7/3/2008, Feminist Daily News Wire 7/6/2007, Feminist Daily News Wire 5/7/2008

Obama: Mental distress can't justify late abortion


Jul 3, 6:01 PM (ET)

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says "mental distress" should not qualify as a health exception for late term-abortions, a key distinction not embraced by many supporters of abortion rights.

In an interview this week with "Relevant," a Christian magazine, Obama said prohibitions on late-term abortions must contain "a strict, well defined exception for the health of the mother."

Obama then added: "Now, I don't think that 'mental distress' qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term."

Last year, after the Supreme Court upheld a federal ban on late-term abortions, Obama said he "strongly disagreed" with the ruling because it "dramatically departs form previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women."

The health care exception is crucial to abortion rights advocates and is considered a legal loophole by abortion opponents. By limiting the health exception to a "serious physical issue," Obama set himself apart from other abortion rights proponents.

The official position of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group that endorsed Obama in May, states: "A health exception must also account for the mental health problems that may occur in pregnancy. Severe fetal anomalies, for example, can exact a tremendous emotional toll on a pregnant woman and her family."

The 1973 landmark abortion case, Roe v. Wade, established a right to an abortion, and a concurrent case, Doe v. Bolton, established that medical judgments about the need for an abortion could include physical, emotional and psychological health factors.

"Senator Obama has consistently maintained that laws restricting abortions must contain exceptions for the health and life of the mother," Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said Thursday. "Obviously, as he stated in the interview, he has consistently believed those exceptions should be clear and limited enough to ensure that they don't undermine the prohibition on late-term abortions."

In a statement, NARAL Pro-Choice said Obama's magazine interview is consistent with Roe v. Wade.

"Sen. Obama has consistently said he supports the tenets set forth by Roe, and has made strong statements against President Bush's Federal Abortion Ban, which does not have an exception to protect a woman's health," the organization's statement said.

A leading abortion opponent, however, said Obama's rhetoric does not match his voting record and his previously stated views on abortion rights.

David N. O'Steen, the executive director of National Right to Life, said Obama's remarks to the magazine "are either quite disingenuous or they reflect that Obama does not know what he is talking about."

"You cannot believe that abortion should not be allowed for mental health reasons and support Roe v Wade," O'Steen said.

In the interview with Relevant, conducted on Tuesday, Obama also defended his opposition to restrictions on induced abortions where the fetus sometimes survives for short periods. Obama voted against such a bill when he was in the Illinois Senate. He has said he supported a federal version of the law that contained more specific language because he feared the Illinois proposal would have applied to all abortions.

"There was a bill that came up in Illinois that was called the 'Born Alive' bill that purported to require life-saving treatment to such infants. And I did vote against that bill," Obama said Tuesday. "The reason was that there was already a law in place in Illinois that said that you always have to supply life-saving treatment to any infant under any circumstances, and this bill actually was designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, so I didn't think it was going to pass constitutional muster."

Va. Bishop Apologizes Over Girl's Abortion

By Kameel Stanley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 4, 2008; B01

Leaders of a Richmond-based Catholic charity under federal investigation are scrambling to explain the organization's involvement in helping a 16-year-old illegal immigrant in its care get an abortion in January.

Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo apologized this week for the "monumental tragedy" and the embarrassment the incident has caused the diocese and Catholics across the country.

"The guilt and depression that many of us experience as a result of the behavior of a few is something that we will bear for a long time to come," he wrote in a statement to the Catholic Virginian, a biweekly newspaper that serves the Richmond diocese.

DiLorenzo's comments followed reports that four staff members of Commonwealth Catholic Charities were fired after it was revealed that they provided the girl with transportation and signed a consent form needed for the abortion.

An investigation revealed that the workers also had helped her implant a contraceptive two months before the abortion, Joanne D. Nattrass, the charity's executive director, said in a statement.

The charity's staff and DiLorenzo "are deeply saddened by the incident," she said.

The girl, who is from Guatemala, was in the government's refugee resettlement program and living in Virginia. It is unclear why the workers helped her obtain the abortion, which is against Catholic teachings.

Nattrass would not discuss the employees' motivation. But she said Commonwealth Catholic Charities has taken steps to ensure that such an incident doesn't happen again, including ongoing education and training for employees about Catholic beliefs.

Charity employees do not have to be Catholic but are expected to adhere to the religion's teachings. "Most of our staff here are not Catholic," spokeswoman Paula Ritter said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is investigating whether the charity violated state and federal laws by facilitating the abortion.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops receives about $7.6 million annually to provide foster care for illegal immigrant children until they can be reunited with their families.

The conference contracts with more than 1,700 Catholic Charities branches across the country to provide services. Federal law prohibits using federal funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the woman's life is in danger.

Also, Virginia law requires those younger than 18 to have parental consent for an abortion.

"These federal funds are awarded with the clear purpose of caring for unaccompanied minors here from other countries," said Kenneth J. Wolfe, a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families. "We were surprised and disappointed to learn of a chapter of Catholic Charities using this funding to care for a minor, facilitated a minor procuring an abortion."

Nattrass said no agency or diocese funds were used.

A statement by Catholic Charities USA said the association "encourages all of our member agencies and their staff to adhere to our Code of Ethics which states that 'agencies shall clearly indicate, prior to the creation of any client relationship, that the agency does not provide services contrary to the teachings of the Church.' "

Because of privacy issues, little is known about the girl or her current situation. And it is unclear whether she is still in the United States or whose care she is under. But correspondence between government officials and the charity and statements by the charity's leaders reveal more about the incident.

Church leaders learned Jan. 17, the day before the procedure took place, that the girl was pregnant and considering an abortion but did not stop her, according to an April 23 letter that David Siegel, head of refugee resettlement program, sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a statement, Nattrass said that upon learning of the plans, she immediately contacted DiLorenzo, who explicitly forbade the procedure.

"Based on erroneous and incorrect information provided to Nattrass, the Bishop was told it could not be stopped," the statement said.

In addition to failing to get parental consent, the agency also failed to file a treatment authorization request, required for medical procedures for minors in their care, federal officials said.

"The CCC staff had rationalized that [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] had given consent for the abortion because the staff had a medical authorization form on file," Siegel wrote.

Furthermore, even though the federal government has custody over children in the refugee resettlement program, federal guidelines require consent from a minor's parent or legal guardian when the medical procedure is considered serious.

Abortions are in the "serious medical services" category, according to federal officials.

"It was a failure of management and oversight by [the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops] and a failure in judgment by CCC to conclude that a medical procedure of such seriousness . . . could be consented to unilaterally by a grantee of the federal government," Siegel said in the letter.

Richmond diocese spokesman Steve Neill said church leaders hope the incident will not permanently taint the organization.

"The main thing is there was a life taken, and in no way does the Catholic Church condone abortion," he said. "The bishop is agonized over it."

Some say the damage is done.

Judie Brown, founder and president of the American Life League, an anti-abortion organization, said she was horrified to learn that DiLorenzo knew about the abortion before it took place.

"It's scandalous," Brown said. "It's just another nail in the coffin of the Catholic Church's credibility."

Brown said she holds DiLorenzo responsible, especially given the position and authority bishops hold in the church.

"I don't think it matters what this girl was thinking," she said. "I think it matters what the bishop did not do."

Others say the government's reaction to the incident is disturbing.

Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, said the government should be helping teens who ask for help, not putting up roadblocks.

"It's a big concern, and we're learning more about it," Amiri said. "Instead of showing them compassion, the government is putting its political opposition to abortion above their best interests."