“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

Lost in Translation: What the Doublespeak of Reproductive Rights Opponents Really Means

NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona's Kat Sabine in front of the Capitol in 2012.

NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona’s Kat Sabine in front of the Capitol in 2012.

A “dedication and commitment to protect the health of women” sounds like something from the mission statement of a praiseworthy organization — one that might even get you to grab your wallet for a donation or your running shoes for a marathon. Those nine words, though, came from Gov. Jan Brewer, in a proclamation against Roe v. Wade that she signed for the Center for Arizona Policy.

The Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) is an influential, far-right Christian organization behind more than 100 of Arizona’s state laws. Since its founding in 1995, CAP has taken positions that are antagonistic to the health of Arizonans — adults and children alike. As Rachel Port has written previously for this blog, CAP has opposed anti-bullying measures, comprehensive sexuality education, and the Affordable Care Act.


Abortion opponents may claim to safeguard women’s health, but their policies put women in danger.


People who oppose access to abortion have made rhetoric about the health of women and children a common theme in their messaging, implying that the termination of a pregnancy is a dangerous procedure that threatens patients’ health. It’s been part of their toolbox even though abortion is one of the safest medical procedures a patient can undergo — safer, in fact, than childbirth. It’s been in use in spite of other contradictions as well, like those CAP exhibits in its disregard or adversarial stance toward policies that would promote the health of women and children. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

Emily Letts

Emily Letts

  • Arizona (which has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the United States) doesn’t require its students to take sex ed, and thus over 75 percent of students in Tucson aren’t taking it. This is not good! (AZ Daily Star)
  • Arizona religious zealot and crackpot Pastor Steven Anderson says birth control has turned women into “whores” and stated, “Not only does birth control do damage to women, it hurts their body if they’re using the pills. And it also affects their character, causing them to be an idle, tattler, gossip, turning aside after Satan.” Whoa, man! Obviously this concerns me, so I perused the little info packet that’s included with my birth control pills and these do not seem to appear in the side effects. Hmm. Someone must not be telling the truth. WONDER WHO? (Raw Story)
  • As you may have heard, Emily Letts set off a firestorm when she allowed her abortion procedure to be videotaped. As expected, the portion of the population that believes women should be forced to give birth under any and every circumstance is infuriated that she doesn’t seem completely ashamed by her choice and chose to share it rather than hide it. (NBC News)
  • How much did the Affordable Care Act save women on the cost of birth control in 2013? $483 million! Yay, thanks President Obama! #HighFive (Think Progress)
  • Between 2008 and 2011, the national abortion rate declined by 13 percent. (San Diego Free Press)
  • NARAL is kicking ass and taking names in the fight against “crisis pregnancy centers” lying to women via Yahoo and Google ads. (The Hill)
  • Senate Republicans are going after more abortion legislation. Act surprised, y’all. (Politico)
  • Astute, profoundly reasonable thinker, Sarah Palin, opines that having a grandkid could change Hillary Clinton’s views on abortion. Yeah … I guess we’ll just ignore the fact that Hillary GAVE BIRTH TO HER OWN BABY 34 years ago and is still pro-choice. (CBS News)
  • As I’ve mentioned before, having babies can sometimes make women even more strident in their pro-choice views. Here’s one woman’s story: (RH Reality Check)

Book Club: Generation Roe

Generation RoeLike many in her generation, Sarah Erdreich thought the freedoms that Roe v. Wade guaranteed were secure. A child of the post-Roe era, she learned that the landmark decision had legalized abortion, striking down many of the state and federal restrictions that had previously forced countless women to risk their lives and health in the hands of underground abortion providers — providers whose work was not accountable to any professional medical standards.

What Erdreich learned was true, but it wasn’t the entire truth. Legalizing abortion was one thing. Guaranteeing access to it was another. After college, graduate school, and a series of abandoned career starts, Erdreich ended up in Washington, D.C., working for the hotline for the National Abortion Federation. Her job changed her perspective, opening her eyes to the extent that restrictions and barriers still diverted many people from the legal procedure of abortion. It was that experience that inspired her to write Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement (Seven Stories Press, 2013).


Generation Roe is worthwhile reading for those who want to build on the legacy of Roe v. Wade.


Generation Roe assesses where we are today, 40 years after Roe, with a sobering look at the continuing threats to reproductive freedom. In the decade that Roe was decided, 77 percent of all U.S. counties lacked an abortion provider. Today, that figure has jumped to 87 percent, while the number of women of childbearing age in those counties has increased from 27 to 35 percent. That’s one of many indicators Erdreich uses to capture the contradictions of the post-Roe era. Those like her who grew up after 1973 have never known what it’s like to live without the availability of legal abortion. But that availability has been curtailed by everything short of overturning Roe, from legal means, such as statutes mandating medically inaccurate pre-abortion counseling — plus waiting periods of 24 hours or more — to illegal means, such as threatening abortion providers and their patients.

Unfortunately, while so much significance can be pegged on Roe v. Wade, and while those few syllables can serve as a sort of shorthand for reproductive freedom, there isn’t a counterpart that succinctly captures its myriad curtailments. As a result, many of those curtailments are left out of the conversation. It takes a news hound to follow what’s happening in the 50 states on the abortion front and to have a thorough sense of where that leaves people who seek abortion services. “I absolutely think most people are not aware of what the realities are in terms of barriers to access,” says law student Kyle Marie Stock, one of the many people Erdreich interviewed for her book. Continue reading