Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Dangerous Political Targeting of Abortion Providers

Unfortunately, abortion providers around the country have become far too accustomed to being targeted by not only by anti-abortion extremists’ threats and violence, but also increasingly by anti-choice politicians.

In Kansas, former state Attorney General Phil Kline is currently accused of ethics violations stemming from his relentless harassment and investigations of Dr. George Tiller and his clinic in Wichita.  The ethics violation allegations include the mishandling of patient records detailing abortion services as well as using state workers to track the comings and goings of Dr. Tiller’s patients at local hotels in an attempt to uncover patient identities and match names to subpoenaed patient records.  During his February ethics hearing, Kline testified “…that he and his subordinates had the right to deceive other state agencies and didn’t have a duty to immediately correct flawed information provided to a trial judge as they started investigating abortion providers.” 

Kline charged Dr. Tiller with misdemeanors accusing him of performing illegal abortions in December 2006.  When that case was dismissed, Kline’s successor filed additional charges in 2007.  Dr. Tiller was acquitted of all wrongdoing in late March 2009 and then murdered shortly thereafter on May 31, 2009. 

Now Dr. LeRoy Carhart is being targeted in Iowa because he plans to open an abortion clinic that like Dr. Tiller would also provide late term abortion services.  Iowa state Democratic lawmakers have been trying to revise currently proposed anti-abortion legislation to prevent Dr. Carhart from opening his clinic.  By contrast, Republican lawmakers are only concerned with passing a 20 week abortion ban and believe Democrats are attempting to supplant the 20 week abortion ban proposal with legislation directed specifically at Dr. Carhart’s clinic. 

In Iowa, two Senate Democrats broke ranks with their caucus and decided to advance a 20 week abortion ban bill to the Iowa Senate floor.  Pro-choice groups “…have said [that] while the legislation may aim to ban abortions after 20 weeks, a single line in the bill — ‘It is recognized that life begins at fertilization’ — would effectively ban all abortion in Iowa, and wage war on women’s reproductive rights.”  Moreover, the debate on the bill has failed to “…consider ‘different outcomes’ of pregnancy, including ‘miscarriage, fetal anomalies, delivery, still-birth, and abortion’.” 

Recently, Iowa Democratic State Senator Joe Bolkcom told the Iowa Independent that he was working on drafts and amendments “…to thoroughly address the constitutionality of…” the 20 week abortion ban legislation.  The constitutional issues deal with the fact that the bill “…stipulates life is recognized at fertilization, effectively banning all abortions in the state.”  Last week Bolkcom said, “…he will introduce a new abortion bill this week aimed at preventing a Nebraska doctor from opening a family planning clinic in western Iowa that would offer late-term abortion services.”  Bolkcom stated that he objected to the Republican proposed 20 week ban legislation because it provides “…no exception for life of the mother, rape, incest or fetus abnormalities that would prevent the baby from surviving after it’s born…What’s more, constitutional experts say the bill as drafted is blatantly unconstitutional.  There’s not much point in passing an unconstitutional bill that will only embroil Iowa in an expensive court battle.” 

Last Wednesday, Bolkcom announced plans to impose new restrictions on any abortion clinic that provides late term abortions.  His proposed bill would subject such clinics to unspecified criteria to meet a “certificate of need” requirement.  Specifically, the bill provides:

…a certificate of need may only be granted if the facility will be located in close proximity to a hospital that provides the appropriate level of perinatal care for its patients; and directs the department of public health to adopt rules to determine the certificate of need application fee for such facilities.

Iowa Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D) “…has been hemming and hawing on allowing a 20 week abortion ban onto the senate floor for debate and a vote.”  It has become increasingly clear that the real purpose of the anti-choice legislation is to ensure that Dr. LeRoy Carhart does not open up a clinic in Gronstal’s district while avoiding a possible court challenge to the 20 week abortion ban.  Gronstal stated, “[t]he legislation as drafted by the House I think significantly invites a very serious court challenge…So I think we’re trying to look at some ways to fix that up in such a way that we can guarantee a new, late-term abortion clinic doesn’t open in Council Bluffs.”

However, last week Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R) “…lash[ed] out against a Senate Democrats plan to offer a new version of a controversial late-term abortion bill, saying the debate isn’t about a single abortion provider.”  McKinley, angry that a vote on the 20 week abortion ban bill is being pushed aside to go after Carhart, told the Iowa Independent:

…it is wrong for Senator Mike Gronstal to continue to obstruct a vote and stand in the way of meaningful Senate debate on this issue and Senate Republicans will continue to demand an up or down vote on a late-term abortion ban this session.  We are confident that if Senator Gronstal opts to listen to the citizens of his district and allows a vote on a late-term abortion ban, it will pass the Senate with strong bipartisan support.

But yesterday, amid much controversy on the Iowa Senate floor between Democrats and Republicans, the Iowa Senate did in fact pass the legislation targeting Dr. Carhart’s clinic.  The Iowa Independent reported that Senate Republicans angrily protested passage of the bill as a “sham” because it is unlikely to garner enough votes to pass in the Iowa House of Representatives.  Senator Mark Chelgren (R) said, “[t]he reality is…we’re going to have an abortion clinic here, because we failed to come together to get anything done again.” 

The Feminist Daily Wire reported that on Monday:

…the Iowa Senate voted along party lines 26-23 to pass a bill that seeks to prohibit Dr. LeRoy Carhart from opening a clinic in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  The bill mandates that clinics offering abortion services after 20 weeks, which would include Dr. Carhart's proposed clinic, be located near a hospital with an intensive care unit.  Since there is not a hospital in Council Bluffs that meets the standards specified in the bill, Dr. Carhart's clinic would not be able to open there if the bill passes.  The bill will now go to the Iowa House of Representatives, where it likely will not pass.

When abortion providers become the targets of anti-abortion extremist violence they can at least seek out the protection of local law enforcement and federal protection under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.  But what options do abortion providers have when they become the targets of anti-choice politicians that seek to punish them for providing abortion services?  In Kansas, the relentless attacks against Dr. Tiller, from then State Attorney General Phil Kline, created an atmosphere of hate and violence. 

And now Dr. Carhart is becoming the new face of the “evil abortion provider” that anti-choice politicians can exploit for political expediency.  The Iowa Independent reported that “[m]ost abortion bills drafted and introduced this session were measures to stop Carhart from opening a surgical clinic…” 

How far will Iowa’s anti-choice legislators take their campaign to stop Dr. Carhart from providing late term abortions?  And what possible violence may these attacks engender in the future for not only Dr. Carhart but other abortion providers as well?  

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