In The Lion’s Den: Undercover At A Pro-Abortion Meeting

On Thursday, Sep. 15, Planned Parenthood of North Texas hosted a presentation by Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, to discuss their lawsuit against the state of Texas’s new sonogram law. The event, called “Trust Texas Women,” was held at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, and I attended, ostensibly as a concerned pro-choicer, although no one asked me my affiliation.

I had to RSVP beforehand, and I did so, using my real first and last name and email address. When I arrived, I was checked in by a smiling woman and ushered toward free refreshments. Another smiling woman, nibbling a cookie, complimented my cowboy boots. Someone else said she liked my tattoo – a large, black state of Texas on my arm. I thanked them both, wondering if they could smell the pro-life on me, but despite being younger and blonder than most of the people there, I seemed to attract no undue attention. Only seconds later, someone else came and ushered us into the sanctuary, where approximately 50 or so other people, mostly women, were already seated.

The church appeared tasteful and expensive, much like the tony Highland Park neighborhood in which it is situated. Signs bore the Unitarian Universalist’s current marketing slogan of choice: “Standing on the Side of Love.”

Pictured: Love, according to the Unitarian Universalist Church.

The senior minister, Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter, was speaking when I took a seat. He introduced Kelly Hart, the PPNT Director of Public Affairs, who lamented the recent statewide cuts in public “family funding” and the closing of five “health centers.” She briefly mentioned that the Sonogram Bill, which would have become law on Sep. 1 were it not for the injunction won by CRR, “forces a woman to listen to information about her fetus.” She said this as though it were a dreadful thing. She then introduced Nancy Northup.

Nancy Northup

Northup, who has been president and CEO of CRR since 2003, is a graduate of NYU School of Law, teaches at Columbia, and is a life-long Unitarian Universalist. “It’s where I get my convictions for what I do,” she stated proudly, thereby cementing my opinion of Unitarian Universalism.

Ms. Northup began by warning that an “avalanche of anti-choice laws” had fallen on the country in the past year, fifty at the state level, and that CRR intended to block “as many as possible.”

She then launched into the main focus of the meeting, the Texas Sonogram Bill, which she called “an attack on our fundamental rights.” She then went on to name these rights, none of which are found in the Constitution: the right to an abortion, the separation of church and state, and the right to not have to hear speech you don’t want to hear. She called the law “patronizing” and “intrusive,” and said she found it ironic that Gov. Perry would want the government involved in intimate conversations between a woman and her doctor, but veto a bill banning texting while driving because it micromanages the behavior of adults. Everyone laughed at this, and I bit my tongue, not wanting to be the party-pooper who pointed out the difference between a grown adult engaging in behavior that may or may not be dangerous, and a grown adult taking the life of an unborn child.

One of CRR’s major arguments against the law is that it is unconstitutional because it mandates speech on behalf of the doctor, and that many doctors will refuse to follow the government’s instruction and be forced out of providing abortions. She quoted statistics meant to sound dire, which to me sounded heartening: that 87% of US counties don’t have an abortion provider, which number goes up to 92% in Texas.

Have I mentioned lately that I love Texas?

The lawsuit, which CRR filed on behalf of all Texas abortion providers, claims the bill violates First Amendment rights because, according to Judge Sam Sparks in his recent decision, it “compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree” and suggests retention of patient files for seven years, which Judge Sparks, agreeing with CRR, decided seeks to “permanently brand” women who’ve had abortions. He also said it will also “surely dissuade” doctors from providing abortions, forcing women to less competent physicians.

I did not raise my hand and point out that doctors may not agree with all different sorts of laws, but they still have to follow them. For example, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) requires doctors to give you a government-mandated form, which you have to sign. And the state of Texas requires all medical records to be kept for seven years, not just the records of women seeking abortions.

Judge Sparks of the 5th Circuit Court issued an injunction against most of the Sonogram Law, but not the twenty-four hour waiting period requirement. For the most part, the judge got a glowing review from Northup. “The courts are so important,” said Northup, in the pro-choice fight. She herself clerked for the 5th Circuit Court and said it was chosen for this suit because of its strong record of pro-civil rights decisions. On that note, she also clarified that the Sonogram Bill lawsuit claims sexual discrimination because only women, not men, are subjected to these patronizing laws.

I did not raise my hand to point out that only women get pregnant and can have abortions, that only women have the power of life and death over the unborn child in their wombs, and that if men could get pregnant I imagine they’d run into these same “patronizing” problems. I just kept scribbling my notes, while around me concerned women clucked and shook their heads.

“Texas is a big fish for the anti-choice movement,” Northup said, making me feel, well, a little bit proud. She then, in a tone devoid of irony, borrowed from Hillary Clinton when she said, “It takes a village to wage a successful lawsuit.” So much for raising a child! She urged attendees to visit trusttexaswomen.com, and to get involved with PP and NARAL, to raise awareness, talk to friends, and not be afraid to stand up for choice.

Northup then commented dramatically on the murder of abortionist George Tiller, saying that during a visit to the Nobel Museum in Stockholm shortly after Tiller’s death, she happened across an exhibit bearing a quote by George Bernard Shaw, which read: “Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.” Across the room, serious expressions and nodding heads. Of course, her gravitas begged the question: Why so sad about George Tiller and not about the approximately one million unborn who die every year? What is that the extreme form of? Aren’t those children being censored, too?

“The numbers are with us,” said Northup as her speech drew to a close, citing Guttmacher Institute statistics claiming that one in three women will have an abortion, and that “the majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases.”

Also, I'd venture to guess that one or two of those women who've had abortions regret it.

She then basically admitted that the information given to abortion-minded women by doctors as part of the Sonogram Law would be factual and correct. “They can’t be forced to give misleading or inaccurate information,” she said, discussing why doctors would not be giving women information on the abortion-breast cancer link, about which I will let the reader be the judge.

Some of the most interesting statements of the evening came during the Q & A session. As Northup went off-script, the real agenda of the CRR – and, judging by the reactions of those attended, the pro-choice base – became apparent. For example, when mentioning a case in Nepal, she praised public funding for abortion, saying, “A right you can’t access is not a right at all.”

I don’t have to point out the absurdity of this statement. I have a right to drive a car, but that doesn’t mean the taxpayers have to buy me one.

Citing a CRR lawsuit in Columbia, Northup happily reported that in most places where abortion is made legal, it becomes publicly funded as soon as it’s recognized as a right.

She then favorably compared Canada’s abortion laws to ours, saying that while the US is known for its liberal abortion policies, Canada “has no criminal abortion laws,” and abortion there is a lot like it is here: rare and mostly in the first trimester. Ergo, Canada is “a wonderful example that we don’t need criminal laws micromanaging women’s behavior.”

In other words, what Northup advocated from the podium that night was free abortions, with no restriction on gestational age. You’d be hard-put to convince me this reflects the opinions and beliefs of the majority of Americans.

But she wasn’t done.

An audience member asked why the 24 hour waiting period had not been struck down, since it was obvious to her that women with limited access to money, and therefore child care and travel, would be hindered from having abortions because of this. Northup confirmed that CRR did not win an injunction on this issue because the Supreme Court has upheld the waiting period, deciding that it is not an “undue burden.” She said that unfortunately, since the strong seven-two decision of Roe v. Wade, there are now “softer standards” on constitutionality, meaning states can impose their own statutes, such as banning abortion after viability. Northup said CRR may re-file suit in Arizona on the 24 hour waiting period issue, using circumstances such as poverty and domestic violence as examples of undue burden. Meanwhile, she said, “we are stuck with a bad Supreme Court decision.”

Gee. I wonder what that’s like.

Another concerned woman asked how being forced to view a sonogram was not mental and emotional abuse. Northup answered that the case may be decided on the papers, but if it goes to trial, this issue would be brought up. She gave an example of a case in Peru in which a woman was, as characterized by an outraged audience member, “forced to give birth” because she couldn’t afford an abortion. Northup explained that a 1980 Supreme Court decision found that even abortions deemed medically necessary would not be funded, because the government is not responsible for problems not of its own making, and considered poverty not a problem of the government’s making. Laughter from the audience, and Northup said dryly, “I don’t have to impact that for you.”

In the land of CRR, Northup, PP, and the pro-aborts, if you are poor and/or pregnant, it is all the government’s fault.

One of the very few, if not the only, young women in the crowd, a black woman of about college age, brought up the upcoming 40 Days for Life campaign, which she called a “marketing scheme.” She mentioned a couple local colleges – the University of North Texas in Denton and SMU in Dallas – which intended to start a blog and engage in other activities to combat the pro-life presence in the city during that time. The young woman wanted to know what response PPNT was planning, and before stepping aside to let Kelly Hart field the question, Northup got in a final last bit of slander when she urged the audience to keep in mind that those anti-choice protesters often secretly go have abortions at the very clinics at which they protest, and then go back to “yelling” at women.

Aside from a brief enjoiner to check Facebook and Twitter and sign up for email updates about PP’s response to 40 Days for Life, that was the end of the presentation. I couldn’t leave fast enough. A fight-or-flight response kicked in, and I nearly ran the two blocks to my car. It took a couple hours before I stopped bursting into tears periodically.

I was upset because I had seen evil, and evil was mundane. Evil had a very impressive law degree and sensible brown shoes. Evil sat in pews around me with folded arms, feeling very concerned about the plight of poor women, wearing pants it bought at Macy’s. Evil looked like people you see at the grocery store. And, most terrifying of all, evil thought it was doing good.

It would be really helpful if evil looked like this.

I immediately transcribed my notes for those who might find it useful and sent them off, and have spent the week since the meeting reflecting on what I learned, which is basically this: that it is just as bad as we fear it is, but it’s far worse for them. The pro-life movement is making headway, and they know it.

Whatever it is you’re doing, keep doing it, and do more of it.

Meanwhile, Northup says CRR is expecting a decision in the Sonogram Bill lawsuit by the end of the year. I’ll keep you posted.

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Kristen is Vice President of New Wave Feminists and blogs at Eve’s Ransom. She also tweets as @walkertxkristen and can be found on Facebook if you know where to look.