Norman Lear: Why I'm a Man for Choice

Norman Lear

More than forty years ago, the writers and I on our TV show "Maude" did something which apparently no one had done before on television: We showed our main character making the decision to have an abortion.

This was 1972, the year before the Supreme Court affirmed the right for all women to make their own reproductive health-care decisions. Back then, abortion wasn't something that was being discussed on television. But, of course, millions of women, and men, and families were discussing it in their own homes. So, we wrote some episodes that included Maude's discovery that, at age 47, after her daughter was grown, she found herself pregnant. We explored her conversations with friends and family about that pregnancy, and her ultimate decision with her husband to end that pregnancy. To no one's surprise, the world continued to turn on its axis.

As with our character, Maude Findlay, the majority of women who have an abortion today are already mothers, and don't make the decision lightly. At that time, a woman's ability to make the decision to create or expand her family was dependent on the state she lived in and how much money was in her bank account.

I never would have thought that, more than 40 years later, we would still be waging these same fights over women's reproductive rights that we were facing in the 1970s.

Yet, in June, the Supreme Court will decide the most consequential abortion case in decades involving a Texas law that could force the closure of abortion clinics in the state.

As America celebrates Women's History Month this March, we recognize the incredible strides our country has been able to make because of the hard work, creativity and resolve of American women. Our country is stronger when all Americans are empowered to make their own decisions about their health, their bodies and whether to start and grow their families.

It is unfortunate that, in this heated political season, we are still debating whether women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Seven in 10 Americans support a woman's right to an abortion. Congress and state legislatures should be following the will of the people and get out of the way.

Instead, states from Texas to Mississippi to Ohio are leaving millions of women without access to health-care clinics that provide the reproductive healthcare services they deserve. Women – particularly poor women, women of color, and those living in red states – are losing access to their constitutional right to abortion at a frightening pace.

The very same politicians who are closing clinics in the name of protecting women and families are actively harming them by cutting off funding for preventative health care, cancer screenings and HIV prevention as part of an ideological war against abortion. Putting up barriers to accessing health care is not the way to support and empower women in this country.

But really, this is not about abortion for the anti-choice movement. Cutting off access to health care is one tool in their playbook that pushes a worldview where women are kept out of positions of power.

We know that one in three women in the United States will have an abortion in their lifetime. Most women who choose to have an abortion are in their twenties — the same decade in which their careers are just starting to take off. By depriving a woman of her right to an abortion, we're boxing her into a world where she cannot choose her own destiny, take advantage of the career opportunities she wants, or simply live the life that's best for her and her family.

f we trust women to run businesses, fight for our country, raise children, and hold the highest political offices (and we all should), we need to also trust that they are capable of making their own decisions about what is best for their own body, family and future. When the anti-choice movement doesn't trust women to make these personal decisions, we can only assume they don't trust women to lead either.

I am proud to stand with NARAL Pro-Choice America and call myself a "Man for Choice" because I believe it is time for men to stop pretending that we know better what women's health-care needs are. Women have proven that they are up to any task set before them and are more than capable of deciding their own futures. We can't afford to wait another 40 years before politicians figure this out.

This post originally appeared on CNBC.


The Cruel Irony Of The Anti-Choice Movement’s TRAP Strategy

The Supreme Court heard arguments today in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which could be the most influential abortion rights case in decades. Whole Woman’s Health, which addresses a Texas law that aims to close abortion clinics by saddling them with expensive and unnecessary regulations, puts to the test the anti-choice movement’s long-term strategy of passing targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws meant to squeeze abortion providers out of existence.

As early as 1990, attorney Walter Dellinger, who went on to serve in the Clinton administration, was warning that the emerging strategy of setting up obstacles to abortion access would push women to obtain abortions later in their pregnancies, a more expensive and less safe procedure. These supposed “compromise” measures, he noted, were at the same time sometimes coupled with calls to cut off legal abortion during the second trimester of pregnancy. Dellinger wrote in The American Prospect:

To enact in the United States laws that simply prohibit abortions after twelve or eighteen weeks would constitute a strange and cruel response to the issue of late abortions. In this country, legislative deadlines for abortion would co-exist with access regulations designed to prevent women from being able to meet the deadline. No state truly concerned about either the increased maternal health risks or the moral implications of late abortions should consider the coercive step of prohibiting second trimester abortions while simultaneously pursuing policies that cause abortion to be delayed. … Bans on funding for abortions, shutting off access to public hospitals, parental consent/ judicial bypass laws, and testing requirements all fall into this category. Legislators who are troubled in principle by late abortions should support instead measures ensuring that every woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy can do so as early and as safely as possible.

Fast forward to late last year, when a study showed that exactly that had happened after Texas implemented its restrictive new law:

A new report released by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project — a research group based at the University of Texas at Austin that’s been tracking the state’s reproductive health policy over the past four years — finds that recent clinic shutdowns have greatly limited access to timely abortions statewide. In some cases, women had to wait nearly a month to be seen. In others, clinics had to turn women away, since they had no available appointment slots open.

As wait time to get an abortion increases, the estimated proportion of abortions performed in the second trimester increases. These later surgical abortions, although safe, are associated with a higher risk of complications and are significantly more costly to women than an earlier medical abortion. And even staunch abortion opponents are more opposed to late-term abortions compared to earlier procedures, citing the scientifically disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks gestation.

At today’s arguments in Whole Women’s health, Justice Anthony Kennedy hinted at this issue, according to the Wall Street Journal’s early reports:

Justice Kennedy ends the string of questions from the women justices.

He notes that drug-induced abortions are up nationwide, but down in Texas, where the number of surgical abortions is up since the state enacted its law. He wondered whether such an impact was “medically wise.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg similarly called out Texas’ solicitor general for undermining his own claim that the state’s regulations were meant to protect women’s health:

Justice Ginsburg asks: How many women will be located more than 100 miles from a clinic? Mr. Keller makes reference to a 25% number, but says that number is high because it doesn’t take into account some women close to clinics in New Mexico.

That’s odd, Justice Ginsburg says. She wonders why Texas would consider those New Mexico clinics an option, given that they wouldn’t meet the standards set forth in the state law. If your argument is right, New Mexico is “not a way out” for Texas, the justice tells Mr. Keller.

Even as the anti-choice movement is pushing restrictive regulations that, as the Texas study showed, drive women to seek abortions later in their pregnancy, it is championing measures at the state and federal level that would cut off legal abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, partway through the second trimester.

Of course, the anti-choice movement is focusing on these two strategies because they believe they can pass muster in the courts and in public opinion in a way that the ultimate goal — an outright ban on abortion — would not. But what is left is not a regime that protects women’s health, as proponents of Texas’ law claim, but one that makes it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for women to obtain an abortion, which has been their ultimate goal all along.



As Anti-Abortion Groups Gather in D.C., A New High Profile For A Radical Movement

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

This week, many of the various factions of the anti-abortion movement will gather in Washington for the March For Life, an annual event that marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

The wide array of events surrounding the march reflect many of the strands of the anti-choice movement. This morning, far-flung members of the “rescue” movement -- those who protest outside of clinics and sometimes harass providers and patients -- joined local activists who have been protesting at a new Planned Parenthood building, much to the dismay of the elementary school next door. On Wednesday, a group of demonstrators elsewhere in Washington mistakenly protested outside of a closed Planned Parenthood building. Over the next few days, young activists will have two rallies and a conference dedicated just to them. Lawyers and law students will meet about legal strategies for turning back abortion rights. For the first time, there will be a conference focused on evangelicals.

But many of these events will be connected by the presence of one familiar face: David Daleiden, the young activist whose “sting” operation against Planned Parenthood has shaken up the anti-abortion movement. Daleiden isn’t scheduled for a main-stage slot at the march, but he’ll be making appearances at the Planned Parenthood protest, the evangelical summit, the lawyers’ event and a Family Research council event, along with a related Students for Life event on the West Coast on Sunday.

Daleiden’s influence will likely be felt even at events where he isn’t present: The keynote speech at the march itself will be delivered by Carly Fiorina, the Republican presidential candidate who has routinely recited a false story of what she claims to have seen in one of Daleiden’s films.

The central role of Daleiden in this week’s events reflects the extent to which his project, which stemmed from one of the most radical strands of the anti-choice movement, has brought radical protest groups back to prominence and shifted the strategy and priorities of the more “mainstream” parts of the movement.

Last summer, Daleiden started releasing a series of videos, taken undercover in conversations with Planned Parenthood employees, which he claimed showed the women’s health organization illegally profiting off fetal tissue donated for research. Those claims didn’t hold up, but they opened up a new line of attack for the anti-choice movement -- along with a new wave of violence -- that culminated in the recent votes in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, something that anti-choice leaders say they will now be able to do once and for all if a Planned Parenthood foe is elected president. Planned Parenthood is now suing Daleiden and his accomplices.

This renewed focus on Planned Parenthood has helped to elevate the rescue movement, which Daleiden’s project grew out of. Two of Daleiden’s closest advisors, Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman and Life Dynamics’ Mark Crutcher, helped to pioneer the strategy of cutting down access to abortion by making life miserable for abortion providers and patients. Crutcher has specialized in doing this through “sting” operations, including one that Daleiden’s was modeled after, and now hopes to train and “unleash a whole army of David Daleidens” on abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood has long been a target of these groups. After Daleiden started releasing his videos, anti-choice groups began directing their activists to protests in front of Planned Parenthood clinics led by some of the old guard of the rescue movement. This created what Newman described as “the largest coordinated protest of abortion clinics” since the prime of the rescue movement in the 1980s and 1990s.

Daleiden’s videos have also prompted a shift in how major anti-choice groups are talking about their work. Americans United for Life, the influential anti-abortion legal group, has been a leader in the strategy of pushing abortion restrictions in the name of “women’s health,” offering legislators anti-choice model bills through what it calls its “Women’s Protection Program.” But since Daleiden started releasing his videos, AUL has sensed an opportunity and started shifting its rhetoric toward legal rights for fetuses, launching what it calls an “Infants’ Protection Project” that quietly aims to build on “personhood” protections for fetuses.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the anti-choice campaign powerhouse Susan B. Anthony List, told ProPublica that in Daleiden’s videos, her group “saw our opening -- and we jumped all in.”

That has certainly also been the case with Fiorina and her fellow Republican presidential candidates, nearly all of whom say they want to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood’s services to low-income women (none of which goes towards abortions), and several of whom have vowed to attempt to ban all abortion, some through a radical “personhood” strategy.

The official theme of this year’s March for Life is “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman go Hand in Hand,” a nod to the strategy of portraying abortion restrictions as protections for women. But it seems likely that it will be hard to escape Daleiden’s attack on Planned Parenthood and its aftermath.


What the GOP Is Calling for When They Advocate Defunding Planned Parenthood

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Today Senate Republicans are preparing to vote on legislation to defund Planned Parenthood. GOP presidential candidates including Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Rand Paul have jumped on the bandwagon, with Paul calling for a stop to "any penny of money" going to the organization. Jeb Bush called for a congressional investigation.

It's obvious that these attacks are the latest right-wing tactic aimed not only at destroying Planned Parenthood but also at a woman's right to control her own body. It's a campaign borrowing a page from a very old, very repetitive playbook.

But let's be clear about what it means when Republican politicians crusade, over and over, to defund Planned Parenthood. 

Calling to defund Planned Parenthood is calling to prevent low-income women from getting lifesaving cancer screenings. It's calling to prevent HIV testing, well-woman exams, and other basic medical services. No matter how you cut it, it's an attack on the health and well-being of women, especially on those least able to afford cuts in services.

Reproductive health advocate Clare Coleman, who formerly headed up a network of Planned Parenthood clinics in New York state, said that although their medical centers nationwide serve patients of all ages, races, genders, and incomes, she described their typical patient as "a working woman between 20 and 24, maybe in school, often with children." That patient, Coleman wrote, lives on an "edge" where "you know you're always one emergency away from everything falling apart."

Calling to defund Planned Parenthood is calling to take away medical care from women who are already struggling to make ends meet. 

I have dedicated decades of my life to the opposite work: the movement to make sure women can make our own medical decisions and shape our own futures in a system that respects our autonomy. The struggle to make sure all women, especially women of color and low-income women, have access to reproductive health and reproductive justice.

These GOP leaders, despite lip service to "rebranding" efforts aimed at reaching more women, seem dead-set on just the opposite.

If they are truly concerned about reaching women, maybe they should avoid making the most marginalized women the target of their regressive policy proposals. Maybe they should avoid attacking medical centers that one in five women has relied on. 

While GOP politicians repeat tired, dishonest talking points about defunding the "abortion industry," dedicated staff at Planned Parenthood health centers willcontinue to provide critical medical care to people across the country. Who's really fighting for women?

Read our new Right Wing Watch In Focus report on the right-wing activists behind the attacks on Planned Parenthood. 


2014 Midterm Elections: PFAW Holds Member Telebriefing with Political Strategist Celinda Lake

People For The American Way hosted a telebriefing Thursday evening to update PFAW members on the electoral landscape for 2014.  The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured prominent pollster and political strategist and current President of Lake Research Partners Celinda Lake, as well as PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager and Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Lake discussed the political climate in Congress and the general frustration voters feel toward both political parties. She emphasized multiple times throughout the call that in this election “the key is voter turnout.” In Kentucky, for instance since most undecided voters are leaning towards Alison Lundergan Grimes, turnout will be critical to help unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Political Director Randy Borntrager discussed the work PFAW is doing to make the biggest impact possible in the most pivotal races to help progressives win this election. Lake and Borntrager emphasized that increasing awareness to voters of what is truly at stake – from reproductive rights to potential Supreme Court vacancies – will help make a difference come November.

Questions from callers also focused on other critical races including gubernatorial races in Florida and Wisconsin, the Senate race in North Carolina, and contests in Alaska and Iowa, among others.

In closing, Drew Courtney noted that the telebriefing shows that “we have some challenges ahead, but we are going to fight hard and push forward, and we’re not going to go back to the way things were before.”

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.


The Supreme Court’s Attack on Working Women

The following is a guest blog by Beth Huang, 2010 Fellow of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in two critical cases with major implications for working women. The Supreme Court ruled once again that corporations are people, this time conferring religious rights that trump workers’ rights to access full healthcare. In a dissent to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted “that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.” Justice Ginsberg’s dissent reveals the real impacts of denying coverage of contraception for low-wage working women -- something the slim five-justice, all-male majority fails to comprehend.

To compound the attack on working women, five male Justices severely undermined the ability of care workers – 95 percent of whom are women – to collectively bargain in the case Harris v. Quinn. This assault on working people stems from the Justices’ view that the care workers in the case are not “real” public employees and thus the union cannot charge the appropriate agency fee to all of them for its bargaining services. This ruling serves the interests of anti-worker extremists at the expense of these invaluable workers who care for our families and our children.

It’s clear: a majority of Justices are trampling over the rights of working women. In light of these attacks, it’s time to organize for gender equity and economic justice for working women.

Back in 2010 when I was a student, Young People For helped me develop organizing skills that have led me to effectively advocate for and with women and workers. Through my work in student labor organizing as an undergraduate and since graduation, I have seen that workers’ rights are women’s rights, from having access to comprehensive healthcare to having a voice on the job. To build an economy that works for today’s students and youth, we need to organize locally and train new leaders in the broad effort to advance our agenda for gender equity and economic justice.

At the Student Labor Action Project a joint project of Jobs with Justice and the United States Student Association, we’re doing just that by building student power to advance an agenda that protects the rights of current workers and promotes a more just economy for students to enter when they graduate. Our campaigns focus on demanding funding for public higher education, which we know is a major source of good jobs and upward mobility for women and people of color; pushing back on Wall Street profits that fuel the student debt crisis; and raising the working conditions for Walmart workers, 57 percent of whom are women.

The Supreme Court’s decisions last week underscored the urgency of organizing for these changes. Women’s access to equal rights, power in the workplace, and comprehensive healthcare depends on it.

PFAW Foundation

Hobby Lobby, Wheaton College, and the Importance of Women Justices

Days after the Supreme Court handed down its damaging 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS issued an order that underscored the danger that Hobby Lobby poses for women’s health.

In Wheaton College v. Burwell, SCOTUS temporarily granted relief to Wheaton College, a religious institution that is “categorically” opposed to providing contraceptive services, from the contraception coverage compromise solution that the  Court explicitly endorsed in Hobby Lobby. The order says that Wheaton may be exempt from submitting a form that would inform the government that they object to covering birth control. Wheaton College argued that submitting this form would make it “complicit in the provision of contraceptive coverage.” The temporary order indicates that the Court’s majority may accept this problematic argument.

In what Think Progress called a “blistering dissent” to the order, Justice Sonia Sotomayor — joined by the two other female Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — sharply criticized the order. Sotomayor wrote in the dissent:

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

While this order is temporary until the case may be heard in front of the Court, the female Justices’ strong dissent demonstrates not only the division within the Court, but also the importance of having diversity on our courts. Women on the bench provide a critically important perspective on all cases, but especially those that deal with women’s lives. It is more important than ever, when women’s rights are under assault, that women are more fairly represented at all levels of government.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Opposes Nomination of Michael Boggs to be Federal Judge

Federal district court nominee Michael Boggs of Georgia had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The hearing was his opportunity to address the many serious concerns we and others have had about his record. When he first ran for office as a state judge, he assured voters that they could know where he stood by looking at his legislative record, including his opposition to marriage equality. But judges aren’t supposed to let their personal political beliefs determine how they rule on cases. In addition, the legislative record he cited is deeply disturbing.

Unfortunately, his testimony in response to senators’ questions only deepened our concerns. So in a letter Wednesday to members of the Senate, People For the American Way expressed strong opposition to this confirmation. PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon delineated the reasoning behind the organization’s opposition to Boggs’ confirmation.

“[Boggs’] record makes clear that senators should not confirm him to a lifetime position as a United States judge,” the letter states. “…we do not believe Michael Boggs has demonstrated that he would be able to bring to his service as a lifetime judge on the federal courts the requisite impartiality necessary for such a position.”

The five page letter discusses the problems around Boggs’ ability to perform in the role of judge and his actions relating to LGBT equality, reproductive rights, and government promotion of religion. It also discusses the controversy around his support for the inclusion of Confederate imagery in the Georgia state flag, as well as his candor before the Judiciary Committee. You can read the full text of the letter here.


Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Launches ‘It’s Time’ Campaign

At a standing-room-only event at the National Press Club today, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice launched a new campaign designed to shift the public conversation about religion and sexuality.

An underlying premise for the It’s Time campaign is that the Religious Right has dominated that conversation and as a result, “an unprecedented number of bills are being proposed – and far too many are passing – that attempt to write one narrow-minded, dangerous religious view of abortion and sexuality into law.”

The campaign seeks to enlist people of faith – the majority of whom support access to contraception, sexuality education, and reproductive healthcare including abortion – and give them tools for engaging in respectful conversation with friends, families, religious congregations, and communities.  Speakers at today’s launch included religious leaders, healthcare advisors, and advocates.

“We all need to be reminded that many, many people of deep faith across this country are pro-faith, pro-family and pro-choice,” said Rev. Alethea Smith-Withers, RCRC board chair. LaTasha Mayes, executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh, said polling indicates that 76 percent of African Americans who attend religious services weekly agree that abortion should be legal and safe.

Dr. Willie J. Parker, a Chicago physician who provides abortion care, said that he is “witness to the torment” of patients who are told when they make the decision to have an abortion “that doing so is mutually exclusive with the faith identity that they hold.” Said Parker, “I believe a compassionate, explicit and assertive voice within the faith community….sets at liberty those who are held captive by religious dogma.”

Another speaker, Aimee Thorne-Thompson of Advocates for Youth, described herself as a secular person who understands that religion has been used as a tool of oppression but can also be a tool for justice. “I want young people to know that they can bring their whole selves to these conversations and their activism, and that includes their sexuality and their faith, if they have it.”

RCRC President Harry Knox, said, “For us, the call to reproductive justice is a moral one, grounded in centuries of spiritual teachings and sacred texts.” Knox recently wrote:

“Religious leaders, in particular, must articulate the simple fact that while people of faith vary widely in their beliefs about when and whether ending a pregnancy is morally acceptable, a vast majority of the American people believe that decisions about pregnancy should be made by a woman, in consultation with her partner and physician, and perhaps her clergyperson – not by the government.”

According to Knox, the It’s Time campaign will be at the Supreme Court in March as the Hobby Lobby case is heard; in Texas in April to nurture a new clergy network committed to reproductive justice; in Tennessee in May to teach people how to “lead faithfully at the epicenter of a ballot initiative fight”; and around the country to help people shape public discourse and be heard at the voting booth.


Study: Wave of Anti-Choice Laws Has Shut Down 1 in 10 Abortion Providers

In our recent report, “Chipping Away at Choice,” we examined the ways that conservatives in state legislatures are quietly undermining the right to choose by passing laws meant to shut down abortion providers.

An analysis by Bloomberg BusinessWeek published today finds that that strategy has been enormously effective. In fact, Bloomberg finds, almost one out of every ten abortion clinics in the country has closed since 2011, as conservative lawmakers have passed 200 abortion restrictions – as many as in the previous ten years combined.

At least 58 U.S. abortion clinics -- almost 1 in 10 -- have shut or stopped providing the procedure since 2011 as access vanishes faster than ever amid a Republican-led push to legislate the industry out of existence.

A wave of regulations that makes it too expensive or logistically impossible for facilities to remain in business drove at least a third of the closings. Demographic changes, declining demand, industry consolidation, doctor retirements and crackdowns on unfit providers were also behind the drop. More clinics in Texas and Ohio are preparing to shut as soon as next month.

Opponents have tried to stop access to abortion through civil disobedience, blockades and legal action. Clinics were bombed and doctors killed. Now, legislatures are proving to be the most effective tool after Republicans made historic gains in the 2010 elections. Their success is creating one of the biggest shifts in reproductive health care since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 legalized abortion in all 50 states.

The pace began accelerating in 2011. Since then, through Aug. 1 of this year, state lawmakers passed 200 abortion restrictions, according to Guttmacher. That’s about the same number that had passed in the prior 10 years combined.

The reporting by Bloomberg, coupled with data from Guttmacher, which surveys providers every few years, show that clinics have closed at a record pace since 2011. During the past three years, an average of 19 closed each year. That’s more than double the rate in the decade ending in 2008.

Interestingly, Bloomberg’s data comes from Operation Rescue, a militant anti-choice group that keeps a public database of abortion providers. Operation Rescue, of course, is thrilled by the developments. Spokeswoman Cheryl Sullenger – who served two years in federal prison for a plot to blow up an abortion clinic and has been linked with the man who murdered Kansas abortion provider George Tiller -- told Bloomberg that such laws are a doing some of her organization’s work for them: “People who don’t have power protest on the street. People who have influence work from within to enact change.”