In the Wake of Roe v. Wade: The Helms Amendment

USAID is essential in reducing infant and maternal mortality in the developing world.

This Sunday, December 17, is the 44th anniversary of the Helms Amendment.

What is the Helms Amendment and why should we care about it?

The simple answer to the first part of that question is that it is language added to the 1973 foreign aid bill. It reads:

No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.


The Helms Amendment was the first federal legislative attack on abortion rights in the post-Roe era.


But of course nothing to do with abortion is ever simple. Think of the Senate in December 1973, just 11 months after the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal. In the intervening months the war in Vietnam ended; Henry Kissinger visited China; the Watergate hearings and the first trials of the conspirators began; Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after being convicted of accepting bribes; President Nixon named Gerald Ford to replace Agnew; there were bloody coups in Greece and Chile; the Yom Kippur War was fought in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia led the oil embargo against the United States, raising gasoline prices from 25 cents per gallon to more than a dollar; Nixon tried to stop the Watergate investigation by firing the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox; the top two people in the Justice Department resigned rather than do so, leaving Robert Bork to carry out that order, in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre; eventually Nixon was compelled to turn over his tapes after fighting the order in court.

In other words, 1973 was a turbulent year, a time of great change and political turmoil in Washington. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 1: Racist Anti-Abortion Rhetoric from the Restell Years to Roe v. Wade

Newspaper illustration of Madame Restell in jail, February 23, 1878

This article is our first installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion, from the fears of immigration that fueled abortion prohibition in the late 1800s to the gender-based hatred rooted in today’s white nationalist resurgence.

In the battle over abortion, Kentucky was this year’s ground zero. In Louisville, the EMW Women’s Surgical Center fought to keep its doors open, as a governor, a legislature, and a base of activists — all hostile to abortion — made it their mission to shut the clinic down. For reproductive justice advocates, the stakes were high, as EMW stands as the only abortion provider in Kentucky, the last one in a state that had more than a dozen such providers in the late 1970s.


In the 19th century, opposition to abortion was fueled by racist paranoia.


The situation in Louisville was emblematic of a national phenomenon. In 2011, state legislatures entered a fever pitch, passing new restrictions on abortion, including ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, state-mandated counseling, and prohibitions against telemedicine care and abortion medications. Within a few years, more than 200 restrictions were enacted, and by early 2016, The Washington Post was reporting that 162 abortion providers had closed in their wake.

Boom Years for Abortion

When Ann Lohman first opened her abortion practice, her experience could not have stood in starker contrast to the battle of attrition against regulations and harassment that shutters many of today’s providers. If there were any challenges to keeping her doors open, it was competing with the many other providers who clamored for attention, with advertisements in newspapers, popular magazines, and even religious publications. Lohman’s own advertising budget, to stand out from the crowd, eventually reached $60,000 a year.

Lohman’s experience, like the EMW Center’s, was a sign of the times — but they were very different times.  Continue reading

The Racial and Reproductive Justice of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, 1967. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

On January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president, almost half a million people descended on Washington, D.C., in what the Washington Post called “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history.” The Women’s March was held to protest the election of a highly unpopular president, who had been exposed in the months leading up to the election as someone who insulted the appearance and intelligence of women, boasted of his aggressive sexual advances toward others, and vowed to nominate a Supreme Court judge who would roll back women’s access to abortion. In D.C., and at solidarity marches around the nation and the world, people arrived for a massive show of support for women’s rights and reproductive justice.


Thurgood Marshall was a “great champion of intersecting struggles against racism and sexism.”


Actor Chadwick Boseman, who was on the set of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, a movie based on the first black superhero featured in mainstream comics, took a break from filming that morning to tweet, “Shooting Black Panther on a Saturday. But my heart is at the Women’s March.” It was a fitting sentiment for an actor who had also been cast to star in Marshall, the recently released biopic about the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

While Marshall was known foremost for his role in important civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education, as well as for becoming the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice some 50 years ago this month, he was also an influential figure in the history of reproductive justice. While the biopic focuses on his early career, when he handled a 1941 case involving a black defendant facing racially charged allegations and a prejudiced criminal justice system, it was not until more than three decades after that case — and more than five years after his swearing in to the Supreme Court — that Marshall became a fixture in the history of abortion rights in the U.S. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

A note to our dear readers: One of the things I will begin highlighting in our rundowns in reference to anti-choice legislators will be whether they have a personal history of adopting or fostering children in need.

On any given day, there are nearly 428,000 children in foster care in the United States.

Unfortunately, there are simply not enough families willing or able to provide homes for these children.


Legislating women’s bodies does nothing to help children in need.


Oddly, nearly all of the white, wealthy, highly privileged men who make laws limiting what women can do with their reproductive organs under the guise of being “pro-life” have never adopted or fostered an actual child.

It strikes me as not only hypocritical, but also as a supreme moral failure from a group of Christian men who speak so passionately about the value of an embryo’s life and fight relentlessly to preserve it. Interestingly, anytime I try to find something positive one of these “pro-life” men has done for children in need after they’ve been born, I come up with … nothing. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • orange-kool-aid-man-205As all of us know by now, the moronic stooges of the incoming administration pose a serious threat to our reproductive rights. Trump’s pick for HHS secretary, Tom Price, has twice co-sponsored federal legislation that would define fertilized human eggs as legal persons. Vice President-elect Pence co-sponsored these legislative attempts. Paul Ryan has supported such legislation as well! Is it realistic that the push to legally recognize an egg as a “person” could succeed? Could stem cell research lose federal funding? Could Price make it easy for insurance companies to stop covering birth control? Yes to all of the above. (Scientific American)
  • There has been a lot of chatter about “faithless electors” refusing to grant their states’ electoral votes to Donald Trump next week. Personally speaking, I’m keeping my expectations low and preparing for the orange version of the Kool-Aid man to be in office come January 20, 2017. (Time)
  • Did you know that the fear-mongering weasels in Texas drafted a cockamamie booklet full of idiotic, disproven lies called “A Woman’s Right To Know” that is required to be given to women seeking abortions? Of the many blatant falsehoods cited in the book, they try to scare women into thinking having an abortion increases one’s risk of breast cancer. Fun fact: it doesn’t. (Huffington Post)
  • Republican legislators in Ohio, completely IGNORING the fact that federal courts have previously deemed such laws unconstitutional, advanced a law to outlaw abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Which is before most women even show signs of being pregnant. Infamously anti-choice Gov. John Kasich vetoed this bill and instead passed a 20-week ban based on the notion that this is when a fetus can feel “pain.” (NBC News)
  • Notably, the American Medical Association concluded more than a decade ago that fetal perception of pain is “unlikely before the third trimester.” They concluded that the capacity for pain probably does not even exist before 29 or 30 weeks. (Fact Check)
  • Various Arizona artists are planning a “Nasty Women” art exhibit in downtown Phoenix January 14 to 20, and they’re donating the proceeds to Planned Parenthood Arizona! (Phoenix New Times)
  • Our Knight in Shining Brown Armor, Barack Obama, just made it super hard for individual states to defund Planned Parenthood! (NY Times)
  • Donald Trump doesn’t have time to be bothered with daily intelligence briefings, but he does have time to meet with rappers. #Priorities (Rolling Stone)
  • 30 million people will lose their insurance if Obamacare is repealed. Thirty million. (NBC News)
  • Maybe this scathing Trump op-ed in Teen Vogue will make you optimistic about the next generation. (Teen Vogue)
  • Ya know what I don’t wanna see when I walk into a public restroom at a restaurant, bar, hospital, hotel, or school? Anti-abortion graffiti propaganda written all over the damn wall. Well, Oklahoma passed an atrociously asinine law requiring anti-abortion rhetoric to be posted on bathroom walls in public restrooms. And business owners would have to pay the costs for this nonsense! The state claims it wants to achieve an “abortion-free society.” Wow. That sounds amazing. Know what will help get us there? Widespread access to affordable birth control and comprehensive sex education in all schools. Oklahoma notoriously does not support either of those initiatives, though. (NY Mag)
  • Speaking of Oklahoma, they lost a battle in the TRAP war. (Slate)
  • Roe v. Wade will be fine (according to this optimistic writer, who is banking on the longevity of the very old liberal members of SCOTUS). (Slate)
  • In my last rundown I shared the news of Texas trying to force the burial of fetal remains (only the ones resultant from abortion, not miscarriage — cause apparently those are less sacred and valued to legislators). Well that’s canceled. For now. (Texas Tribune)
  • Guess what? Abortion does not harm women’s mental health. The medical field has spoken. Definitively. (NY Times)

“You Have No Idea How Important This Is”: Anita Hill’s Testimony and the Arizona Attorneys Behind the Scenes

Anita HillWhen Justice Thurgood Marshall announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court in the summer of 1991, it didn’t bode well for women. Marshall, the first African American appointed to the court, was best known for his expertise and influence on civil rights law, but he had also been a defender of reproductive rights during his tenure in the nation’s highest court. He was among the court majority that legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade, and he again stood up for abortion rights in two later cases, Harris v. McRae and Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.


The impact of Anita Hill’s testimony went beyond the question of Clarence Thomas’ appointment.


Marshall’s decision to leave the Supreme Court was announced during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, who had campaigned on an anti-abortion platform in his 1988 presidential bid. Predictably, Bush used the opportunity to replace Marshall with a more conservative judge. At a press conference on July 1, 1991, President Bush named Clarence Thomas, who was then one of the few African-American judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals, as his nominee.

Thomas had only served 19 months as a federal judge and, at 43, was relatively young for an appointee. Of the justices currently serving, he was the youngest at the time of appointment. Nonetheless, he had a record of statements and judgments that was enough to satisfy the Republican base. Though he had spent eight years as chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), he had been critical of affirmative action and school desegregation initiatives, and he questioned the very idea that the government should take action to address racial inequality. A product of a Catholic upbringing and Catholic schooling, Thomas had called the right of married couples to use contraceptives an “invention.” Groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) immediately spoke out against Thomas’ nomination, expressing concern that his presence on the court could put Roe v. Wade at risk. Continue reading

The Hyde Amendment at 40: Constitutional Rights Are for Everyone … Who Can Afford Them

The debate around the Hyde Amendment has been squarely focused around abortion. Rightly so. The procedure is still a delicate topic, despite approximately 2 out of 5 women getting an abortion in their lifetimes. But the Hyde Amendment has another angle that no one is talking about. Do poor women actually have a constitutional right when they cannot afford access to that right?


The Hyde Amendment turns 40 this Friday. So what’s the Hyde Amendment?


In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided that individuals have a right to privacy under the 14th Amendment. Roe v. Wade, along with several other cases, saw SCOTUS reasoning that a right to privacy extends to a woman’s right to an abortion. Women who lived through centuries of dangerous back-alley abortions, botched abortions, and dangerous abortifacient drugs saw Roe as a pivotal case for women’s rights.

Three years after Roe v. Wade — 40 years ago this Friday, on September 30, 1976Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois attached a rider to the annual appropriations bill. The Hyde Amendment forbade federal funds to be used for abortions. This rider has been renewed yearly, but never officially added to the bill itself. Years later, two more provisions were added to the Hyde Amendment to allow exceptions for the health of the mother and cases of rape or incest. The effect of this provision meant that thousands of poor women would no longer be able to afford an abortion. Their access to a constitutional right had been considerably decreased. Continue reading