Illegal Procedure: How a 1974 Stadium Bill Put Reproductive Rights in the Sidelines

StadiumFans of the University of Arizona football team will arrive by the thousands at Arizona Stadium on September 3, the start of the fall football season, as the UA Wildcats face off against the UTSA Roadrunners, a team they defeated 26 to 23 in San Antonio last September. For fans, the stadium is a place where legends and losses are remembered. For reproductive rights advocates, it represents a devil’s bargain that took place more than 40 years ago and continues to compromise health care to this day.


In 1974, abortion rights were sacrificed to expand Arizona Stadium.


Arizona has long had a unique role in the abortion battle. In 1962, Sherri Finkbine, a Phoenix-area woman, entered the national spotlight after she found out the thalidomide she was taking as a sleep aid could cause severe fetal abnormalities. The early mortality rate among infants who were exposed to the drug was about 40 percent, in large part due to internal defects that commonly affected the kidneys, heart, digestive tract, and reproductive system.

Fearing how thalidomide would affect the development of her own fetus, Finkbine wanted to terminate her pregnancy in a state — and nation — that put legal barriers in the way of abortion. Already known to many as the star of a locally produced children’s show, she became a topic of national debate when she shared her story with a reporter from the Arizona Republic. She spoke to the reporter in the hopes of warning other mothers about thalidomide. An unintended consequence was that the publicity made it harder to quietly seek an abortion; providers who might have otherwise taken a legal risk for her couldn’t escape the attention that followed her. Continue reading

Book Club: Crow After Roe

Crow After RoeA new book by Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo takes readers on a tour of a disaster. It was a catastrophe that swept through much of the Midwest but also shook states like Arizona, Idaho, and Mississippi. Its widespread effects raised numerous health concerns as it made its way through much of the country, and its repercussions are still felt today. Undoing the damage could take years.

The disaster was not natural, but political. The 2010 midterm elections saw a wave of Republican victories, giving state legislatures a new makeup and a new agenda. Reacting to a recently elected Democratic president who had called himself “a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice,” conservative lawmakers introduced one bill after another to limit access to reproductive health care — especially, but not exclusively, abortion.


The defeat of Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban is a timely reminder of what activists can accomplish.


In Crow After Roe: How “Separate but Equal” Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That (Ig Publishing, 2013), Marty and Pieklo, both reporters for the reproductive health and justice news site RH Reality Check, take a state-by-state look at the many bills that were introduced in the wake of the 2010 midterm elections. Those bills made the next year, 2011, a record year for state-level legislation to restrict abortion. States passed more anti-abortion laws in 2011 than in any year in the last three decades. What was quickly dubbed the War on Women continued into 2012. That year saw the second highest number of new state-level abortion restrictions. This year is shaping up to be much like the prior two, with new restrictions introduced in more than a dozen states, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Marty and Pieklo argue that this onslaught of bad legislation has put women — especially poor, minority, and rural women — in a separate and secondary class of health care consumers who have little choice or control over their reproductive health. The authors posit that the goal of the many restrictions is to render abortion “legal in name only” — still legal, but largely unavailable. Continue reading

When Metaphor Becomes Reality: The Abortion Battle and the Necessity of the FACE Act

PP entrance

Clinic escorts at a Washington, D.C. Planned Parenthood. Photo: Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño via Flickr

Serving as the medical director of a reproductive health clinic made Dr. George Tiller a lightning rod for constant vitriol — and more than once a target of violence. Picketers routinely gathered outside his clinic in Wichita, Kansas, a site of their protests because it provided abortions, including late-term abortions. In 1986, Tiller saw the clinic firebombed. Seven years later, in 1993, he suffered bullet wounds to his arms when an anti-abortion extremist fired on him outside the property. Finally, in 2009, he was fatally shot while attending worship services at a Wichita church.


Anti-abortion extremists can create life-threatening scenarios for those who seek reproductive health care.


In the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death, many reproductive rights advocates argued that his assassination could have been avoided. The shooting was not the first time his murderer, 51-year-old Scott Roeder, broke the law.

Roeder could have been stopped prior to the shooting under a federal law, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which was enacted in 1994 — 19 years ago this Sunday — to protect the exercise of reproductive health choices. The FACE Act makes it a federal crime to intimidate or injure a person who is trying to access a reproductive health clinic. It also makes it unlawful to vandalize or otherwise intentionally damage a facility that provides reproductive health care.

Roeder’s ideology was the root of his criminality. Roeder subscribed to a magazine, Prayer and Action News, that posited that killing abortion providers was “justifiable homicide.” Roeder also had ties to a right-wing extremist movement that claimed exemption from U.S. laws and the legal system. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Another day, another moronic member of the GOP telling us that rape, in some way or another, isn’t all that bad for women. Maybe a pregnancy resulting from it was even “intended by God.” #Facepalm (HuffPo)
  • Joe Walsh, yet another imbecilic dunce from the GOP (they just keep crawling out of the woodwork, don’t they? Like termites!) says that advances in medicine have made pregnancy-related deaths obsolete and, thus, there’s never a need for abortions solely for the health of the mother. (Jezebel)
  • And if you thought it couldn’t get any worse than that, you’re sadly mistaken. Pennsylvania is considering a bill that would reduce welfare benefits for women who cannot prove their child was conceived from a rape. Nothing like dooming a woman and her offspring to abject poverty if she can’t prove her child was conceived without her consent. #GOPValues (Think Progress)
  • A sobering, fact-filled piece on rape being used as a political tool by Republican men in the debate over reproductive rights. (RH Reality Check)
  • President Obama wishes politicians would stay out of women’s health care. So do we, sir. (Politico)
  • Texas has won a court battle to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state health care program that provides services to low-income women. (Business Week)
  • Arizona and Indiana can forget about defunding Planned Parenthood, though, says the judicial system. (AP)
  • Meanwhile, in France, lawmakers passed a bill allowing free abortions for all women and free contraception for girls ages 15 to 18. (Global Post)
  • Somebody alert the rest of the media and call a press conference: Free birth control leads to fewer abortions. (South Florida Times)

20 Years Since Planned Parenthood v. Casey

The U.S. Supreme Court, presided over by William H. Rehnquist, decided Planned Parenthood v. Casey 20 years ago.

This Friday, June 29, marks the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey.

I first learned about the Supreme Court decision of Planned Parenthood v. Casey about 10 years ago. I was sitting in a constitutional law class in a suburban university. It was my first introduction to abortion access restrictions whose names are now commonplace to me: mandatory counseling sessions, 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent, spousal notification, and reporting requirements.

Basically, the facts of the case look like this. In 1989, Pennsylvania amended its Abortion Control Act to require:

  • the person undergoing the abortion to give informed consent and receive mandatory counseling, including alternatives to abortion.
  • a 24-hour waiting period between the counseling appointment and the procedure itself.
  • parental consent for minors, with available judicial bypass.
  • a spousal notification requirement.
  • reporting requirements for providers.

Geography, relationships, and other life realities are perfectly capable of creating their own “undue burdens.”


The state’s Planned Parenthood association challenged the statute and — fast forwarding a bunch — the case eventually ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the standard for whether a state could enact a restriction to abortion access was whether that restriction placed an “undue burden” on the person seeking the abortion. A burden would be considered undue “if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

Of the restrictions enumerated in Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act, the Court considered only the spousal notification requirement an undue burden. Continue reading