A federal trial begins today challenging the medically-unnecessary restrictions on women's health clinics which were passed into Texas law one year ago. The restrictions, which have forced half of Texas clinics to close already, were voted in by lawmakers based on a myth about abortion that the media perpetuated.
On August 4 a federal trial begins in Austin challenging a Texas law passed last summer which requires abortion clinics in the state to qualify as "ambulatory surgical centers" starting this September. The ambulatory surgical centers requirements say that a clinic must have doorways and hallways of a certain width, and "additional infrastructure like pipelines for general anesthesia and large sterilization equipment." As Mother Jones noted, "These requirements aren't medically necessary for an abortion, and they cost a lot of money to implement."
Abortion clinics already have safety requirements, according to medical experts there is no evidence that the additional surgical center restriction "positively affects health outcomes," and these requirements could severely reduce the number of clinics. There are more than 13 million women in Texas, but according to the Wall Street Journal, only seven clinics in the entire state currently meet the extra requirements.
Texas has already lost half of its women's health clinics in the year since the law was passed. Another portion of the law which went into effect last year, and which is currently being appealed, requires doctors who perform abortions to have "admitting privileges" at nearby hospitals. The Texas Medical Board already regulates all physicians in the state, but the requirement forces doctors to also be judged by a nearby hospital -- which some hospitals have refused to do, and which is impossible if there is no hospital within the vicinity.
The rapidly closing clinics have created a health crisis in Texas, leaving millions of women hundreds of miles away from accessing basic health services, and forcing many to resort to using unsafe and illegal procedures. The crisis is not just on lawmakers' hands, however; it was also championed and perpetuated by the media, who failed to investigate an anti-choice myth about the clinics before it was too late.
The Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger hid the facts behind a defeated Texas bill that sought to ban abortions after 20 weeks, which a majority of Texans opposed and which would have unconstitutionally limited access to safe and legal women's health services.
On June 25, a Democratic filibuster during a special session of the Texas state senate effectively blocked a bill that would have banned all abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill included exceptions for cases when the life of the mother was threatened but not for rape or incest, and if it had passed Texas would have some of the strictest abortion restrictions in the country. Governor Rick Perry has called a second special session to take up the bill again, starting July 1.
Henneberger claimed in her Washington Post blog She The People that while she admired Wendy Davis, the Democratic senator who carried out the filibuster, she still supported the bill, in part because more Americans and American women favor than oppose restricting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy:
Because no matter how many thousands of times abortion rights supporters repeat that the bill's ban on abortions after 20 weeks is anti-woman -- hateful in effect and by design -- that's just the opposite of the way I see it. And it isn't how a majority of Americans, or American women, see it, either:
In a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, Americans said they favor a bill like the Texas measure, 48 percent to 44 percent. More than half of politically unaffiliated Americans -- 53 percent -- backed such a bill. And 50 percent of women said they were in favor compared to 46 percent of men.
But a recent poll revealed that in fact a majority of Texans do not support the restrictions on abortion the bill proposed. According to the polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR), a representative poll conducted June 17 - 19 found that 51 percent of Texans opposed the legislation. 63 percent said the state has enough restrictions on abortion already, and 80 percent did not want the special session to deal with matters of abortion at all. Fifty-two percent of Texans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and 74 percent -- including a majority of Republicans and Independents -- say private medical decisions about abortion should not be made by politicians. Fifty-seven percent do not trust the governor or the legislature to make decisions about women's healthcare.
Washington Post political writer Melinda Henneberger falsely suggested that a woman depicted in an undercover video issued by the anti-abortion rights group Live Action was never asked whether she was sure she wanted a legal late-stage abortion despite the "apparent qualms" the woman demonstrated.
Henneberger's falsehood aids the group's attempt to smear an abortion clinic as using practices similar to those of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion provider facing multiple murder charges resulting from the monstrous and horrific procedures he is alleged to have carried out under the guise of women's reproductive health.
Live Action has falsely claimed that their video, currently being trumpeted by the conservative media, reveals "illegal and inhuman practices" at an abortion clinic in New York City.
The Live Action video depicts a woman at Dr. Emily Woman's Health Center in the Bronx inquiring after an abortion in the 23rd week of her pregnancy -- a procedure that is legal in New York State. The woman asks detailed questions about that procedure to both a clinician and a counselor at the facility.
Henneberger writes that given those questions, the woman should have been asked if she was sure she wanted to have an abortion:
You'd think that a patient with so many apparent qualms about a late-stage abortion would at some point get her questions answered with a question: Are you sure you want to go through with this?
But if the tape is as undoctored as this clinic seems to be, you'd be wrong. (A message left on the center's 24-hour line wasn't returned on Sunday.)
In fact, in a portion of the woman's visit to the clinic not included in Live Action's supposedly "undoctored" video, a counselor at the facility asked the woman that very question in response to her repeated inquiries. From the full transcript of the woman's visit, posted by Live Action [emphasis added]:
COUNSELOR: Now are you sure this is what you're comfortable doing? Are you sure you want to do a termination? Because you knew you were pregnant at two months, in some way or another you were thinking about continuing this pregnancy.
COUNSELOR: So what changed your mind from then to now?
WOMAN: Well, I don't really feel like talking about it.
COUNSELOR: Ok. You don't have to go into detail, but I mean is there, there has to be something that can be rectified? I mean do you want to continue this pregnancy because I don't want you to go home after doing your dilation and everything and say "You know what, I think I want to keep the pregnancy". Because that's when we run into problems
The counselor goes on to suggest that the woman consult with a friend before making a final decision about whether she wants to go through with the procedure.
It's no surprise that Live Action is fabricating smears against an abortion clinic -- the group and its founder, Lila Rose, have a long record of concocting such hoaxes. The Post, however, has a responsibility not to compound the group's falsehoods by introducing their own.
UPDATE: The Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger has posted the following correction to her story:
Correction: An earlier version of this column said the activist was never asked if she was sure she wanted to go through with the abortion, but she was, on a portion of the interview not shown on the tape, according to a full transcript provided by the activist.
My latest column is about the bizarre tendency of much of the news media to be shocked by extraordinarily predictable political developments. Here's an example I left out: Melinda Henneberger on MSNBC's Hardball last week:
"It's pretty amazing how quickly things have changed when only recently we thought this was going to be another really great year for the Democrats. But I am just so astonished most of all that this health care debate has gotten away from Obama the way it has. I mean, this should be his greatest moment. This should be a no-brainer."
Really? Henneberger is seriously surprised that fundamentally reforming the health care system turned out to be a struggle -- just as it has proven to be every previous time it was attempted, which is why it still needs reform?
Which part of the process caught her off guard? That Republicans are kicking and screaming and lying and doing everything they can to stop reform -- just like they did last time? Or that, just like they often are, many Democrats have been slow to realize that Republicans are not negotiating in good faith? Or that insurance companies with deep pockets are fairly influential on Capitol Hill -- just like they always are?
Henneberger is "astonished" that the "no-brainer" that is health insurance reform didn't just magically happen while Washington held hands and bought Cokes for one another.
The thing that's actually astonishing is that any reporter could be astonished by any of this.
From the August 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
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