With New York legalizing gay marriage, more and more children will be exposed to same-sex couples (much to the chagrin of conservatives). Here is great video of one little boy's reaction to seeing his first gay couple -- watch how he figures things out:


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Advocates File Emergency Appeal to Block Oklahoma Medication Abortion Restrictions

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court asking them to blocking  a ruling Wednesday that allowed new restrictions on medication abortions to take effect.

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency appeal Wednesday night with the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block new restrictions on medication abortions set to take effect November 1.

The filing came the same day a lower court refused to block HB 2684, a law that prohibits the off-label use of the drug RU-486 (or mifepristone) and bans all medication abortions after 49 days of pregnancy.

HB 2684 is the third time in the past four years Oklahoma politicians have passed legislation restricting access to medication abortion.

Lawmakers in 2011 passed a measure that would have effectively banned the method. That law was eventually struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in a decision the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review.

Oklahoma lawmakers passed HB 2684 in response to that legal defeat.

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) cited the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s previous ruling striking the 2011 medication abortion restrictions as grounds for granting their request filed Wednesday. In order to comply with the law in effect and avoid serious penalties, doctors will be forced to either stop providing medical abortions entirely or follow dangerous outdated and inferior state-mandated protocol, according to the court papers.

The attorneys argued that some Oklahoma patients will lose access to medication abortion altogether and those patients that receive the state-mandated protocol will be forced to receive medical treatment that is less effective, more burdensome, and leaves those patients more likely to require surgical follow-up, the attorneys argue.

Some patients will be delayed in accessing abortion services, which then increases the health risks for those patients.

This is the second emergency motion pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court related to anti-choice restrictions set to take effect November 1. On Monday, attorneys from CRR filed an emergency motion asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block a lower court ruling that allowed new hospital admitting privileges requirements to take effect.

Image: Shutterstock

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Push for National 20-Week Abortion Ban Likely If GOP Takes the Senate

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who will likely become majority leader if he wins his re-election campaign next week and if the Republicans win the Senate, has promised his base that a 20-week abortion ban is a priority for him.

Chances are good that, if Republicans seize control of the U.S. Senate on Election Day, they will try to push through a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation nationwide.

The House passed a 20-week abortion ban last summer, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a companion bill in November. That legislation was blocked by Senate Democrats earlier this year.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who will likely become majority leader if he wins his re-election campaign next week and if Republicans win the Senate, has promised his base that the bill is a priority for him.

“We are taking very seriously the threat that Mitch McConnell has repeated, that he is eager to take on the 20-week ban,” Donna Crane, vice president for policy at NARAL Pro-Choice America, told RH Reality Check.

Crane said that the Republican-dominated House has passed the 20-week ban and could easily do it again, and that women could lose a crucial “firewall” against attacks on their rights if Democrats lose the Senate.

The president’s veto is of course the ultimate firewall, and President Obama is unlikely to allow such a ban to become law. Senate Democrats could also filibuster to keep the ban from getting that far, as long as fewer than 60 senators support it.

But Senate Republicans could easily monopolize lawmaking time and media attention with multiple attempts to pass it, and they could even try to insert it into must-pass spending bills that require only a simple majority.

“Thankfully the president has taken a strong position [against a 20-week ban], but I would not put it past McConnell to try to pass it repeatedly, to try to work it into legislation,” Crane said.

“If you look at the Republican record in the House, we can expect that Senate Republicans will try to throw poison pills of all kinds into appropriations bills,” a senior Democratic leadership aide told RH Reality Check. “If they take this course, they’d be setting up the possibility of yet another Republican government shutdown.”

If the House this session is any indication, the Senate could try to pass numerous other anti-choice measures as well, from forced ultrasounds, to giving parents the option to block their teen’s abortion in court, to defining a fertilized egg as a person.

A 20-week ban might not seem extreme in comparison to bills like those. But it could overturn Roe v. Wade if passed, and cut off safe abortion care for vulnerable women.

The proposed federal 20-week ban has no exceptions for a woman’s health, only life endangerment, along with rape or incest.

No health exception means, for instance, that if a woman contracted breast cancer late in pregnancy and needed to start chemotherapy immediately, she could not get an abortion.

The ban also has no exceptions for fetal anomalies, even fatal ones, which are often not diagnosed until after 20 weeks.

Twenty-week abortion bans, which have become popular in some state legislatures, are considered a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. Roe requires abortion to be legal until a fetus is viable outside the womb, and 20 weeks, the middle of the second trimester, is well before that point.

Courts have blocked three 20-week bans at the state level, though advocates fear the current Supreme Court might be swayed by disproven anti-choice claims about “fetal pain” and decide to gut Roe’s viability standard, which would threaten safe abortion access for women in desperate circumstances.

Twenty-week bans are “patently unconstitutional,” Crane said. But she doesn’t trust this Supreme Court to rule appropriately on that point, given its “growing trend of decisions that indicate that a number of justices are very eager to dismantle our reproductive rights.”

Asked about the 20-week ban, a McConnell aide told RH Reality Check that the senator “has not been specific at this point on what the agenda might look like for next year.”

Image: Mitch McConnell/Youtube

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‘Personhood’ Amendments Would Hurt Families Who Want Children

The amendments in Colorado and North Dakota giving legal rights to fetuses would leave people seeking in vitro fertilization (IVF) in the dust.

Read more of our articles on “personhood” measures here.

Next week, voters in Colorado and North Dakota will take to the polls to vote on amendments that would give legal rights to zygotes, embryos, and fetuses, also known as “personhood” laws. Measure 1 in North Dakota seeks to recognize and protect the “inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development”; meanwhile, Colorado’s Amendment 67 asks voters to add “unborn human beings” to the state’s criminal code. Though Personhood USA, which is backing Amendment 67, may define “personhood” as the “cultural and legal recognition of the equal and unalienable rights of human beings,” make no mistake: The personhood movement is an attempt to undermine the legality of reproductive choice in America. This doesn’t just put abortion in danger; it also leaves some of the people wanting children the most—the infertility community—in the dust.

My own journey to motherhood was a textbook case of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Five years ago, I was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure, a sort of “end of the line” infertility diagnosis. In order to get pregnant, my doctor told us, I had a single choice: IVF with donor eggs, as my own were virtually nonexistent at the age of 26. While I grieved the loss of having a child with my own genes, I found hope and healing in the possibility of experiencing pregnancy and birth. Without IVF, we wouldn’t have the family we have right now.

I still have the grainy black-and-white photograph, taken just before my embryo transfer, of our two three-day-old, ten-cell blastocysts. I often wonder which of those two nearly transparent spheres became the charming, talkative toddler I now chase after.

Even though I know that my son and one of those two balls of cells are the same, however, at no point when I look at that photo do I see a family portrait, much less a person. At that stage of human development, they were merely dividing tissue to me: They had no names, no genders, no sentience. But proponents of the personhood movement, who would legally define life as beginning at conception, evidently see a completely different picture. And it’s one that could make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for the as many as 7.4 million American women with infertility to create a family of their choice by seeking the treatments they need.

Here’s a basic primer of how IVF works: A woman’s ovaries are stimulated to produce multiple eggs. She may be the prospective parent, an egg donor, or even a gestational carrier who both donates her eggs and carries the pregnancy. Doctors then retrieve the eggs and fertilize them in the lab with the prospective father’s sperm from a provided sample. Three to five days after fertilization, medical professionals transfer one to three tiny embryos into the recipient uterus. Any excess embryos—on average, there are about 15—are often frozen and kept in cryopreserved storage until patients use them or discard them.

If personhood amendments were to pass, doctors would presumably have to treat all those embryos, or even the fertilized eggs, as if they had human rights. This, care providers point out, has no basis in medical fact—and it could severely hamper their ability to do their jobs safely and effectively.

“Among the many, many problems with these so-called personhood measures is they simply do not in any way reflect scientific reality,” Sean Tipton, chief advocacy and policy officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), told RH Reality Check. “For physicians providing infertility care, the disconnect between the legal language and actual medicine is very dangerous. The reality is that most fertilized eggs will not develop into babies.”

Tipton fears that Amendment 67 and Measure 1, among other personhood measures, would place a question of potential murder on physicians trying to give their patients the best care possible. About those extra embryos, for example, he wondered, “Will doctors be forced to transfer them into their female patients anyway? Do they provide the best care for their patient, or do they risk facing a homicide charge?”

When it comes to the matters of how many embryos to transfer at once, there is no “one size fits all” recommendation. However, current ASRM guidelines call for the use of elective single embryo transfer (eSET) whenever possible in most favorable conditions, such as if it is the patient’s first IVF cycle or the embryos are of good quality. For most women younger than 37, ASRM recommends that doctors transfer a maximum of two blastocysts at once; for patients older than 38, it recommends no more than three. ASRM and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) specifically set up these guidelines to reduce the number of potentially dangerous multiple births resulting from IVF, including twins, triplets, quads, and higher-order multiples.

In our case, our egg donor—with whom my husband and I are close friends—provided us with 20 eggs then fertilized with my husband’s sperm. Six of those developed into embryos. My doctor transferred two embryos into my uterus; one implanted. Currently, we have four high-grade embryos “on ice”—and no hard-and-fast decisions yet on what to do with them.

Had personhood been in effect at the time of my IVF cycle, however, I wouldn’t have had the option to transfer only two embryos. Our donor would have had to understand that any of the extras couldn’t legally be discarded. We, as prospective parents, would be left with only two options: Donate the remaining embryos to another couple trying to conceive, or transfer them all to my uterus.

The first option, explains New Hampshire reproductive and family lawyer Catherine Tucker, could dissuade known donors from trying to give an altruistic gift to a close friend. “Your known donor might be willing to donate only to you and not to strangers,” Tucker noted. “So [she] might refuse to donate to you simply because she’s not comfortable with her genetic material going to other prospective parents in the event you cannot use all the embryos yourself.”

With our donor, after careful consideration, discussion, and legal negotiation, we collectively decided that any excess embryos would be ours, and ours alone, to use for future cycles, discard, or donate to scientific study as we saw fit—but not to another recipient couple. Our friend made her generous offer to be an egg donor for us, and for no other third parties. Even in cases where the donor is open to the idea of embryos going elsewhere, though, finding other recipients would be a logistical nightmare, especially with no way to guarantee any excess embryos at all.

On the other hand, transferring all of the embryos could put patients’ safety at risk. Assuming my same 50 percent implantation rate, for example, if I had transferred all six embryos, I could have had a triplet pregnancy—and that’s outside of the risk of any of those embryos splitting into multiples of their own. These types of high-order pregnancies put the woman and the fetuses at risk for serious complications, including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, premature birth, miscarriage, and even maternal death. This is to say nothing of the costs of raising an unexpected additional child, which can be an immense burden on infertility patients who have already spent thousands of dollars on their treatments.

Personhood laws could also cause a number of other legal ambiguities for those involved in the IVF process. Barbara Collura, executive director for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, pointed out to RH Reality Check that the vague language of the proposed amendments generates myriad potential gray areas that voters likely haven’t considered.

“What about the infertility patient scheduled for her IVF procedure on November 5?” she pointed out. For that patient, Collura noted, it would be unclear as to whether she had a right to refuse any of her embryos, or if she must cancel her treatment entirely—which would still leave any fertilized eggs retrieved and created before the ballot vote in legal limbo.

Collura also brought up the issue of unused embryos awaiting possible transfer. She raised the questions, “If Amendment 67 and Measure 1 pass on November 4, what will happen to embryos that are currently frozen and in storage in those states? Will infertility patients be able to cross state lines now with these so-called ‘pre-born people?’” After all, if embryos do not survive the trip, their transporters could be held responsible.

Tucker, too, noted that such an action might leave individuals liable to prosecution. “Under personhood laws, IVF physicians and lab personnel who handle the embryos could face criminal punishment should anything happen to these embryos,” she noted in an email to RH Reality Check.

As a result of potential ramifications like these, personhood laws would have devastating effects for reproductive facilities. Reproductive endocrinologists in North Dakota have warned that Measure 1 would effectively shut down the sole fertility clinic in the state, rendering them unable to treat their patients. Amendment 67 would also either shutter Colorado fertility clinics entirely or severely limit their doctors’ abilities to practice recommended standards of care. Although Personhood USA claims that the amendments would not affect IVF, the very nature of the treatment means that some fertilized eggs or embryos are going to be discarded—which is blatantly at odds with the provisions outlined in personhood laws.

Ultimately, personhood initiatives could have a chilling effect on the entire practice of reproductive medicine. While the average person “might think that an IVF laboratory shutting down on account of a personhood law sounds far-fetched,” noted Tucker, “the bottom line is that personhood laws will end the ability of prospective parents to form their families with the help of IVF, egg donation, and even gestational surrogacy.” When legal rights are granted to ten-cell balls of tissue, every aspect of the handling, care, diagnostics, and treatment of those embryos must be taken into consideration. Personhood rights would upend decades of improving standards of best practice.

Personhood proponents argue that they are “working to respect the God-given right to life” and “protecting every child by love and by law.” But for people like me in the infertility community—who want nothing more than to have children of our own—personhood would actually prevent us from having those children in the first place.

I’ll never forget what our friend said when she made her incredible offer to donate her eggs to me and my husband: “I think everyone who wants to have a family should be able to. If I can give you that chance, I want to help because you two deserve to be parents.” If personhood proponents had their way, we’d never have had that chance at all.

Image: Shutterstock

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Court Rules Oklahoma Restrictions on Medication Abortion Can Take Effect

The ruling is the second one this week to allow an anti-abortion restriction take effect beginning November 1.

A district court judge ruled Wednesday that Oklahoma’s restrictions on medication abortion can take effect November 1.

HB 2684 prohibits the off-label use of the drug RU-486 (or mifepristone) and bans all medication abortions after 49 days of pregnancy. Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) challenged the law, arguing it should be blocked because it unconstitutionally forces physicians to treat patients seeking medication abortion according to a decades-old method that is less safe, less effective, and more expensive than the evidence-based methods most doctors use.

Because the law bans all medication abortions after 49 days of pregnancy, CRR argued, it will force patients to undergo a surgical procedure when they otherwise would have the option of a safe abortion using medications alone.

Oklahoma District Court Judge Roger Stuart, in a hearing last week on CRR’s request to block the law, announced from the bench that he intended to allow the law to take effect.

Wednesday’s order makes that announcement final.

“This ruling endorses sham restrictions passed under false pretenses to deny doctors the ability to prescribe certain kinds of care and women a safe option when they have decided to end a pregnancy,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement following the order.

HB 2684 is the third time in the past four years Oklahoma politicians have passed legislation restricting access to medication abortion. Lawmakers in 2011 passed a measure that would have effectively banned the method.

That law was eventually struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in a decision the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review. Oklahoma lawmakers passed HB 2684 in response to that legal defeat.

Wednesday’s ruling is the second loss this month for reproductive rights advocates in the state. Oklahoma County District Court Judge Bill Graves last week ruled that SB 1848, which mandates that all reproductive health-care clinics have a physician with admitting privileges at local hospitals, could take effect November 1.

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block the admitting privileges ruling and said in a statement they are planning an emergency appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocking Wednesday’s order on medication abortion restrictions.

Image: Shutterstock

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GOP Pushes for Independent to Split the Vote With Democrat Michaud

The Republican Governors Association, just a week before Election Day, is pulling out the final stops in its push to re-elect Gov. Paul LePage.

The Republican Governors Association (RGA), just a week before Election Day, is pulling out the final stops in its push to re-elect Gov. Paul LePage. The RGA’s most recent strategy: boosting the image of Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who could siphon votes from Maine’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

The RGA on Tuesday released on ad, claiming that Democratic candidate Mike Michaud, a U.S. Representative for Maine, aims to use tax dollars to fund welfare benefits for illegal immigrants, among other policies the ad trumpets as wrongheaded.

What’s interesting to observers about the RGA ad is that it never mentions incumbent Gov. LePage, instead shining a positive light on third-party candidate Cutler.

“In the state legislature, Michaud voted to create a new tax on Social Security,” the ad says. “It was such a bad idea that then-governor Angus King vetoed it. No wonder independent King now endorses Eliot Cutler. And Michaud still doesn’t get it.”

“What LePage is worried about is the fact that Michaud is gaining support and taking votes from Cutler. They knew their only pathway to victory in this race was to split the vote for anti-LePage,” Lizzy Reinholt, communications director for Michaud’s campaign, said in an interview with RH Reality Check. “It’s clear now that they’re panicking and desperate.”

A recent Public Policy Polling survey found that Michaud and LePage are tied, each with 40 percent of the vote, with Cutler trailing at 17 percent. The same poll found that Michaud is the second choice for the 17 percent of voters who currently favor Cutler, leaving Republicans worried that some moderates might decide to cast their vote for the Democrat by next week.

LePage and other Republicans have not hidden the fact that they plan on using Cutler to split the Democratic vote.

LePage recently called Cutler’s candidacy “an early Christmas” for his re-election bid. And major GOP donors have given to political action committees supporting Cutler, including a conservative couple from Kansas that recently donated $50,000.

Cutler, for his part, isn’t helping the situation for Republicans.

At a press conference today, Cutler said that he understands if voters don’t want to cast their ballots for him next week. “I don’t think any voter, whether a supporter of mine or not, now needs or ever has needed my permission or my blessing to vote for one of my opponents,” he told reporters. “Anyone who has supported me but who now worries that I cannot win and is thereby compelled by their fears or by their conscience to vote instead for Mr. LePage or Mr. Michaud should do so.”

Reinholt said Michaud isn’t too worried about the recent attack ads, which he says misrepresent his positions.

“He’s confident that voters won’t be fooled by [the ads]. Voters aren’t going to be fooled into thinking Congressman Michaud isn’t the best candidate to beat LePage.”

Image: Republican Governors Association/Youtube

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Bishops Denounce ‘Catholics for Choice’ Campaign Against Colorado ‘Personhood’ Measure

Colorado’s bishops, speaking through the Colorado Catholic Conference, say they've taken a “neutral” stance on Colorado’s personhood amendment. But they're criticizing a campaign against the measure by Catholics for Choice, which claims the bishops have tacitly backed Amendment 67.

Read more of our articles on Amendment 67 here.

Catholic bishops in Colorado have denounced a media campaign against Amendment 67 by the pro-choice group Catholics for Choice, claiming it misrepresents “what the Church believes and teaches.”

Catholics for Choice’s newspaper and radio ads, appearing statewide, feature Colorado Catholics explaining why they’re voting against Amendment 67, which would ban abortion by expanding the definition of a “person” in Colorado’s criminal code to include “unborn human beings.”

In a statement responding to a Catholics for Choice news release, titled “Colorado Catholics: the Bishops Don’t Speak for Us,” the Colorado Catholic Conference, which represents Colorado’s three bishops, asserted that Catholics for Choice “does not speak for the Catholic Church.”

The Colorado Catholic Conference “speaks on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Colorado concerning issues of public policy and legislation,” Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, told RH Reality Check via email.

Catholics for Choice is a national organization that challenges the “Vatican on matters related to sex, marriage, family life and motherhood.”

The conference’s statement accused Catholics for Choice of assuming that the “Church in Colorado supports Amendment 67, when in fact it has maintained a neutral stance.”

Catholic Bishops in Colorado declined to support openly not only on this year’s state “personhood” measures but also Colorado’s failed “personhood” efforts in 2008 and 2010.

“Since the ballot-signature campaign began, bishops have allowed local parishes and congregations to be involved in the signature drive and other organizing efforts, lawn signs, pleas to fill out their ballots,” Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, director of the domestic program at Catholics for Choice, told RH Reality Check. They may not have made a declarative statement on which side they are on, but they have certainly not remained neutral.

“The bottom line is that the Catholic hierarchy has not declared when personhood begins, and because of that, it’s hard for them to take a direct stand on a ballot question like this. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t helping,” added Hutchinson Ratcliffe.

“Laws like Amendment 67 are based on one narrow belief about when life begins and imposes that belief on everyone,” Hutchinson Ratcliffe said further, in a statement. “This is anathema to our Catholic traditions of respect for conscience, social justice and religious freedom.”

The Colorado Catholic Conference responded directly to Hutchinson Ratcliffe’s statement in its news release. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” it said. “Colorado’s Bishops, like all Catholic bishops for 2,000 years, have steadfastly proclaimed that respect for all human life at every stage is foundational to the Catholic faith. Abortion from the earliest tradition of the Church has been considered immoral.”

“When it comes to statistics, Catholics for Choice only chooses those findings that agree with their dissent from Church teaching,” said Colorado Catholic Conference’s statement, citing Catholics for Choice’s claims that “14 [percent] of Catholics believe that abortion is morally wrong” and “99 [percent] of Catholic women use birth control.”

The bishops’ statement cited a 2013 Pew survey stating that 53 percent of U.S. Catholics view abortion as “morally wrong.” And it pointed to criticism of the 99 percent figure, which Catholics for Choice derived from government information, as misleading.

“It is our hope that one day Catholics for Choice will take the time to acquaint themselves with basic Catholic teachings, and acknowledge the truth of the Catholic faith, and not choose to undermine her teachings with false and inaccurate information and ads that only work to mislead the public,” the Colorado Catholic Conference said in its statement.

Catholics for Choice spokeswoman Meghan Smith, in a campaign swing through Colorado last month, told Boulder community radio station KGNU, “Catholics believe in respecting women’s consciences. And we do believe that abortion access and birth control access are social justice issues. When these services are banned, they hurt the poorest and the most marginalized among us first and worst. And for us, as Catholics, we have a moral obligation and a duty to speak out against those bans.”

“The bishops really are out of touch and they are out of step when it comes to issues of sexuality and reproductive health care,” Smith added.

Image: Robert Hoetink / Shutterstock.com

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Irregularities, Misinformation Present in Tennessee Early Voting

Shortly after early voting began in Tennessee, local media reported that some voters have received misleading information about Amendment 1 and that there have been cases of voting machine irregularities.

Read more of our articles on the Tennessee ballot initiative here.

Early voting is underway in Tennessee, where residents are voting on Amendment 1, a ballot initiative to decide whether state lawmakers will have the power to enact, amend, or repeal laws regulating abortion.

Local media is reporting, however, that some voters have received misleading information about Amendment 1 and that there have been cases of voting machine irregularities.

There have been at least three incidents involving voting machines that changed “no” votes to “yes” for people voting on Amendment 1. Election officials have dismissed at least one of the reports as “voter error,” according to reporting by the Tennessean.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has raised objections to poll workers distributing a voting guide—created by Rep. Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown), a state lawmaker with a consistently anti-choice voting record—that gives biased information on constitutional amendments, including Amendment 1.

The guide says that voting against Amendment 1 means that “you are saying that you think there should be fewer restrictions on abortions and that abortion clinics do not need to be licensed or inspected.”

The voting guide also says that a vote for the amendment means that “you are saying that there should be some regulations on abortion such as, licensure requirements for abortion facilities and stopping late term (partial birth) abortions.”

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, wrote a letter to the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins responding to news of the guide, which said the organization is “very troubled about reports that poll workers are distributing misleading and clearly partisan information concerning the four ballot initiatives.”

Goins responded by sending letters to each county reminding election officials that the distribution of materials including explanatory language on ballot measures is prohibited.

Anti-choice activists campaigning for Amendment 1 also are lobbying state lawmakers to pass legislation that would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

The ambulatory surgical center requirement, a medically unnecessary provision, was also passed by lawmakers in Texas as part of an omnibus abortion law. The U.S. Supreme Court recently blocked Texas from implementing the provision while the law faces a legal challenge by reproductive rights advocates.

Image: Shutterstock

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As Voters Consider Abortion Rights Crackdown, Two North Dakota Women Speak Out

While the debate surrounding so-called personhood amendments often takes the form of competing ideological and political differences, the human impact is often omitted, or wildly distorted.

Read more of our articles on North Dakota Measure 1 here.

North Dakota voters will decide on Election Day whether to add an amendment to the state constitution defining life as beginning at conception. While the debate surrounding so-called personhood amendments often takes the form of competing ideological and political differences, the human impact is often omitted, or wildly distorted.

North Dakota’s radical “personhood” amendment, giving full legal rights to zygotes, is widely seen as the country’s most sweeping crackdown on abortion rights.

Becky Matthews was born in South Dakota and moved to North Dakota in 1984 while she was in the fourth grade. “I’m a good ‘ol Dakota girl,” she said in a heavy Dakotan accent during an interview with RH Reality Check.

“I grew up in a very conservative church,” Matthews said. “I was never going to be a woman that needed an abortion.”

After having two children, Matthews and her husband decided that they wanted to once again grow their family.

Matthews remembers the exact date. “It was May 30, 2007.” She was 16 weeks pregnant and an ultrasound had revealed that she was pregnant with identical twins. A day later she received a phone call and was told that the twins shared a placenta.

A week after that phone call, it was revealed that her doctor suspected twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a rare condition that causes the fetuses to share blood. One fetus becomes a “donor” and the other becomes the “recipient.” At the time only 14 health-care facilities in the country could treat such a condition.

Matthews and her husband flew to Cincinnati to seek care at one of those facilities.

After testing and consultation with medical professionals at the Cincinnati Fetal Center, Matthews and her husband carefully considered their options. One option was for Matthews to go on bed rest in an attempt to prolong the pregnancy until at least 24 weeks of gestation and attempt to deliver both twins early. Another option was an invasive laser surgery to separate the fetuses, which could have had negative consequences for both of them.

The final option was termination: abort the “recipient” fetus to save the “donor.”

Matthews and her husband flew back home to North Dakota on Father’s Day weekend. She was nearly 20 weeks pregnant. All of the options were on the table. On the Tuesday after Father’s Day she went to her doctor’s office for an ultrasound.

“We didn’t have heartbeats. I delivered them on June 21, stillborn.”

Matthews looks back at her memories at the Cincinnati Fetal Center and the difficult decisions she and her husband had to contemplate and comes to one conclusion: “There’s no right decision, they all stink,” she said, her voice brimming with emotion. “I remember saying to my husband ‘How did we end up here?’ Three weeks ago we were in a healthy pregnancy. How did we get here?”

“I remember looking out the hospital window at the busy street and thinking, ‘Everyone else’s life is going on.’ I felt like my life was never going to be the same. To be honest, after a loss like that, your life is never the same,” she said.

While Matthews never struggled with questioning the decisions she and her husband made, she questioned her faith. “It was really hard to make sense of how … you’re supposed to be six months along and all of a sudden you’re visiting a cemetery.”

When a friend shared with her that she had an abortion due to a genetic diagnosis, she realized how close to that decision they had been. “I was like, that could have been me,” Matthews said.

North Dakota lawmakers considered HB 1305 during the 2013 legislative session, raising red flags for abortion rights advocates nationwide. The bill would have made it a Class A misdemeanor for a physician to perform an abortion based on gender or a genetic abnormality. Matthews said that reading about the bill in the local newspaper made her angry. The conversation around HB 1305 had no consideration for the difficult decisions women and families are forced to make.

“I just kept thinking about how difficult it is to make those decisions and how dare [lawmakers] think they should tell a family what their decisions should or should not be,” said Matthews.

After contacting reproductive rights advocates in the state, she told her family that she would testify against HB 1305. Matthews would also testify against other anti-choice bills, including SCR 4009, which was the legislatively referred amendment that became Measure 1, the ballot initiative North Dakotans will vote on next Tuesday.

After being signed into law by Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) in May 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of Red River Women’s Clinic, filed a federal lawsuit challenging HB 1305. The lawsuit was later dismissed at the request of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Matthews said she’s been motivated to speak out about her experience in part because of the countless people who have shared their stories with her privately. Many opponents to the anti-choice measures, she said, feel they can’t speak publicly about their opposition.

“There is some family that will hear my story and not know it will impact them for years to come. I hope they know that whatever decision they make is OK,” she said.

Many of Matthews’ friends and family consider themselves “pro-life.” But, she said, “they still love and respect me” because they see her story as “different.”

“It’s not different,” she said.

“I don’t feel horrible about the decision I made. I feel horrible about the people who called me … a baby killer”

Angie Brown, born and raised in rural North Dakota, had an abortion a quarter century ago. She has never spoken about her abortion publicly, and said that she has only told three people in those 25 years. Brown said the stigma surrounding abortion in her home state is so pervasive, she fears that if her story became publicly known she would be shunned by friends and family. She even fears being fired from her job.

Brown spoke to RH Reality Check on the condition that a pseudonym be used to protect her identity.

Brown was sexually assaulted when she was a student in college. Her first boyfriend in the wake of the rape pressured her into having sex, and she became pregnant as a result. She was 19 years old. She had quit college due to the trauma of the assault, and then her boyfriend left her.

“I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Brown went to a crisis pregnancy center—facilities that are infamous for distributing false information and deploying scare tactics—but she was concerned about the singular focus the counselors had on her carrying the pregnancy to term. “It was pretty clear that she was more interesting in the pregnancy than she was me as a human being,” she said of a CPC staffer.

Brown’s mother was the first person who told her abortion was an option.

“Don’t you have to go to the cities for that?” Brown asked her mother. “She said that I could go to Fargo. I actually had no idea that there was a clinic in Fargo or that [abortion] was an option at all.”

This was in the late 1980s.

When Brown confided in a friend about the situation, he put her in touch with his sister, who had both carried a pregnancy to term and had an abortion. “She didn’t tell me to do one or the other. She just told me what it was like to have an abortion, and what it was like to have a baby,” Brown said.

At nine weeks pregnant, Brown made an appointment to terminate the pregnancy. A friend drove her to Fargo, three hours away from her home, where she had an abortion.

Now 44 years old, Brown is a college graduate with a career. She is also a mother to a 13-year-old son. She does not regret her decision.

“I don’t feel horrible about the decision I made. I feel horrible about the people who called me a ‘slut’ and the people that called me a ‘baby killer,’” Brown said, “knowing that those people could be living next door to me, or working with me or could be my friends and family.”

“The stigma is the judgement people place on you for doing what you know is best for you,” she said.

Recent research reveals how difficult it can be to even study the stigma of abortion, and advocates at organizations like the Sea Change Program are working to both understand and combat the stigma surrounding abortion.

Both Matthews and Brown think that if more women spoke about their abortion experiences, it might change minds and add much-needed voices to conversations dominated by extreme anti-choice politicians.

“If I’m a group of 50 women or 100 women that came out and said, ‘Yes, I did this,’ that would be different. But as far as I know, I’m a group of one,” Brown said.

Matthews worries about the consequences on women and their families if Measure 1 is passed on Election Day. “I’ve thought about that,” Matthews said, no longer able to control her tears. “I have two daughters, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay here and raise them.”

“For a girl that loves horseback riding and doing stuff with the cattle—I just don’t know how long I could stay [in North Dakota] and fight.”

Image: Shutterstock

The post As Voters Consider Abortion Rights Crackdown, Two North Dakota Women Speak Out appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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North Dakota Supreme Court: Restrictions on Medication Abortion Can Take Effect

The ruling means a 2011 law that bans off-label use of abortion-inducting medications can take effect immediately.

The North Dakota Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a state law severely restricting medication abortion can go into effect immediately.

The legal fight over medication abortion in North Dakota has dragged on for years. In 2011 lawmakers passed HB 1297, a law that bans the off-label use of two drugs used in medication abortions and restricts medication abortions to only the outdated protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Soon after the law was passed, reproductive rights advocates from the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) sued to block the law on behalf of the state’s only abortion clinic, the Red River Women’s Clinic. Attorneys from CRR argued that if allowed to take effect, the restrictions would effectively ban medication abortions entirely. Following a three-day trial, North Dakota District Court Judge Wickham Corwin temporarily blocked the law before it could take effect in July 2011, and in April 2103 permanently blocked the law from taking effect. Attorneys for the State of North Dakota appealed that ruling in December 2013.

Unlike most legal challenges to abortion restrictions, which assert claims under federal law, the fight over medication abortion in North Dakota turned primarily on whether the North Dakota state constitution recognizes a right to privacy and abortion. North Dakota Attorney General Douglas Bahr insisted it does not, and the North Dakota Supreme Court agreed. “Our state constitution is silent about creating a state constitutional right to abortion, and the prevailing practice in the Dakota Territory and when the relevant constitutional provisions were adopted prohibited abortions except to preserve a woman’s life,” the court wrote. “The laws of the Dakota Territory and this State thus provide no long-standing tradition recognizing a separate state right to an abortion, and the drafters of our constitution are presumed to know the existing laws and to have drafted the state constitution accordingly.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, blasted the decision in a statement. “Today’s decision directly conflicts with courts across the U.S. that have rejected the idea that politicians have any place in the practice of medicine or in women’s deeply personal decisions about their pregnancies, their health, their families, and their future,” she said. “The politicians pushing for these unconstitutional and downright dangerous restrictions have had only one goal in mind:  prevent North Dakota women—whom already face incredible obstacles to the severely limited reproductive health care services in their state—from exercising their legal right to abortion.”

North Dakota is not the only states in the country to try and severely restrict access to medication abortion. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found a similar ban in Arizona unconstitutional, calling the law “a burden on women’s access to abortion.” In November 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Oklahoma’s appeal of a state supreme court decision finding that the state’s ban on medication abortion was unconstitutional, allowing the law to remain permanently blocked. Oklahoma lawmakers have since passed another medication abortion restriction. Reproductive rights advocates have challenged Oklahoma’s latest restrictions in court as well.

Reproductive rights advocates in North Dakota have the option of petitioning the entire state supreme court for review of Tuesday’s decision.

Image: Shutterstock

The post North Dakota Supreme Court: Restrictions on Medication Abortion Can Take Effect appeared first on RH Reality Check.

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