The Coat Hanger in the House

House, M.D., that is. Lisa Edelstein, co-star of the Fox medical drama, is starring in a new MoveOn ad, attacking House Republicans.

During the commercial, Edelstein narrates:

Decades ago, women suffered through horrifying back alley abortions. Or, they used dangerous methods when they had no other recourse. So when the Republican Party launched an all out assault on women’s health, pushing bills to limit access to vital services, why is the GOP trying to send women back … to the back alley?

This, of course, is nothing but a disingenuous scare tactic. She’s talking about, I assume, H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” the Protect Life Act, and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. They are all modest legislative goals. They also aren’t entirely partisan.

I might also add: While leadership has not discouraged the latter two efforts, the Speaker has only endorsed one. Theirs is hardly a top-down crusade. It is more like keeping a simple Pledge promise.

The counter to the commercial inadvertently — or prophetically — came in the form of congressional testimony last week from George Mason University law professor Helen Alvaré. Testifying about the Protect Life Act, to the Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, she said:

First, clearly even if one believes that abortion is an integral part of women’s health care — which I do not – it is hard to claim a shortage of abortion providers when there occur over 1.2 million abortions annually in the United States, with a disproportionate number concentrated in our poorest communities, and among women of color.

Second, our nation’s most vulnerable women—the poor, and women with less privileged educations — are more likely to oppose abortion than are men, and than their more privileged sisters. They are also less likely to abort their nonmarital pregnancies than the latter group.

Third, it appears that what opponents of conscience protections — which they call “refusal clauses” — actually intend, is to force the government and conscience-driven private providers to give them what the market has steadfastly refused: widely dispersed sources for abortions provided in hygienic medical settings. What they have instead – even after 38 years of legal abortion in the United States — is a market that looks like this: 87% of U.S. counties with no abortion provider; steadily declining numbers of abortion clinics (which decline began long before clinic prayer vigils and protests began in earnest), largely due to the stigma associated with abortion among physicians and in the medical profession generally; delivery of abortions, in the words of the New York Times, at the “margins of medical practice,” i.e. abortions being performed in the vast majority of cases in free standing clinics (many run by one vocal interest group, Planned Parenthood) with relatively few (about 5%) abortions provided in hospitals or doctors’ offices; and a steady stream of reports of abortion providers violating the most basic standards of health care for vulnerable women, or violating even women’s human rights. Credible reports emerged just last week about employees of several Planned Parenthood clinics offering to cooperate with a man posing as the leader of a sex trafficking ring of minor girls.

Still, extant abortion providers manage to perform over 1.2 million abortions annually, disproportionately among poor women and women of color. If opponents of conscience protection believe this to be too few abortions, current law leaves them free to provide more abortion services themselves, rather than force conscience-driven providers to do so by means of federal fiat. Although recent events indicate that even the nation’s largest abortion provider is having difficulty convincing its own members to expand the supply of abortion. Just this past month, a Planned Parenthood affiliate resigned from the national organization after the latter insisted that each affiliate perform abortions. The head of the Texas affiliate reported to the Corpus Christi newspaper that “there are far greater needs in our area than abortion…We don’t need to duplicate services.”

Fourth, when insisting that women’s “health care” needs merit specialized attention – a claim I also affirm — opponents of conscience protection ought to be willing to engage in a thoughtful conversation about the meaning of health care. In the case of abortion, we find ourselves today in the midst of an emerging scientific and cultural awareness that abortion is not health care. A majority of our U.S. Supreme Court calls abortion “killing.” Many abortion providers and advocates of legal abortion do the same. More broadly, there is emerging evidence from a growing body of sociological, as well as law and economics literature, that more easily available abortion is associated with women’s “immiseration,” and not their flourishing. When Justice Sandra O’Connor wrote in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion that women had “organized intimate relationships, and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail,” she was even more right than she likely knew. According to leading scholars, it certainly appears that more easily available abortion has led to expectations of more uncommitted sexual encounters – a situation which itself contradicts women’s demonstrated preferences – and thereby to more sexually transmitted infections, more nonmarital pregnancies and births, and more abortions. Women of color, poor women and recent immigrants, are suffering these consequences in disproportionate numbers.

[More on the misery of it all here.]

If opponents of conscience protection want to encourage high quality, readily available health care for women, especially vulnerable women, they could not do better than to ally themselves with supporters of conscience protections. In the United States, this group is regularly comprised of the kinds of providers and institutions ready to assist the most vulnerable women, even with free or low cost care. These include, for example, Catholic hospitals which in 2009 alone, provided care for nearly 86 million patients at 561 hospitals.  These also include networks of individual doctors willing to provide free or low cost health care to women. These providers have demonstrated their sense of vocation, and a sensitivity to the needs of the most vulnerable. If not for these institutions and providers, a great deal more of the work of caring for the sick, the poor and the marginalized would fall to the government, or simply go undone. They are proof that protection of conscience and care for the vulnerable are not opposite values, but overlapping ones, or even one and the same. These are not the providers that the law should be driving out of the health care marketplace.

Any prime-time actresses in for the commercial? The cause doesn’t get better.



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  • RSC

    Sick to death of the red herrings and scare tactics. Shame on Edelstein to be a part of it, too. Fact is, if PP wants to keep their $360+mm in funds they just need to stop providing abortions. If they really are in it for the “health care of women” then it seems like a pretty simple choice. For an organization that goes to great lengths to say that none of the federal funds go to assist in the abortions being performed, then they should be able to very easily do without that in their businesses and not worry about losing a cent, right?

    They know it, and they can’t do it.

    I just hate that this group wants to have their cake and eat it, too – as if there is no other choice. Pulling on the heart-strings of “all the women’s services that are not abortion that are in jeopardy…” There is a way to still have those, just stop this. Like an addict, they can not, or will not, which in the end tells you what they REALLY find important.

    • JohnE

      Besides increasing the likelihood of uncommitted sexual encounters, and the resulting likelihood of STDs, oral contraceptives are a class 1 carcinogen. Even if they stopped performing abortions, there is still very little of anything good that Planned Parenthood provides. Abort Planned Parenthood!

      • RSC

        @JohnE – I do not imply to say that I agree with the remainder of their work, but I mainly was trying to push the point of disingenuous commentary. We always hear the cry that (as with Komen) “…these places are much more than abortion – they supply check ups, mammograms, dosctors vists that women would otherwise not be able to have!” and I call BS. Not that they do not offer these things, but that if they “had” to choose between abortion and federal money they would choose abortion. Proof? They are doing it, right now. I am thinking they could keep all $360+mm – just stop performing abortions. The amendment is to remove funding from organizations that provide them. Will they? Of course not.

  • Tess

    I am so sick of this threat. The truth is that the “back alley” is alive and well and now…legal. Kermit Gosnell was able to keep his death clinic open for as long as he did because of legalized abortion. Who was referring patients to him? Well, after watching the LiveAction videos, one can assume that Planned Parenthood was one of his referral sources. Moreover, the guy made 1.8 million dollars a year doing this. I can bet you that there are other clinics like his out there. Afer all, according to Abby Johnson in her book “Unplanned”, Planned Parenthood wanted to get into the second trimester abortions because they could charge more. Thousands of women every year are made infertile due to legalized abortions. Thousands of women die of breast cancer every year due to legalized abortion. could care less about women’s health.

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