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Wednesday, Oct 27, 2010, 8:20 am

Weekly Pulse: Fear-mongering and Fetal Separatism in Today’s Anti-Choice Movement

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Rachel Maddow's documentary, "The Assassination of Dr. Tiller," premiered on Monday. The film tells the story of how radical anti-choicers besieged Dr. George Tiller and his abortion clinic for decades, fostering an atmosphere that legitimized murder in the eyes of a fanatic.

Kay Steiger of Campus Progress notes that while Tiller's colleagues blame Roeder, they hold the larger anti-choice movement responsible for creating a climate of hate and intimidation. Roeder cultivated relationships with anti-choice terrorists, including a woman who went to jail for a botched attempt on Dr. Tiller's life. He also had links to Operation Rescue, the radical anti-abortion group that tried unsuccessfully to shut down Tiller's clinic for decades, through blockades, frivolous criminal complaints, and unrelenting harassment of clinic workers and their families.

Operation Rescue's crusade against Tiller caught the attention of conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly who excoriated Dr. Tiller on the air 28 times, dubbing him "Tiller the Baby Killer."

A federal grand jury is investigating whether Roeder was actually involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Tiller.


Vanessa Valenti of Feministing was impressed by how straightforwardly the documentary dealt with women who have abortions and doctors who provide them:

When we talk about abortion on television ... the real lives who are actually affected by this issue — abortion care providers and the women who have had abortions — are completely left out of the conversation. And this film was about someone’s life, a life that was dedicated to helping, to saving, other people’s lives.

Fighting back

In AlterNet, Aaron Gouveia writes about his confrontation with anti-abortion protesters who called his wife a murderer as the couple approached an abortion clinic in Brookline, MA. The couple was there to terminate a much-wanted pregnancy because doctors had learned that the fetus was suffering from "Sirenomelia," or Mermaid Syndrome, a rare congenital defect that causes the legs to fuse together. This particular fetus had no bladder or kidneys, and doctors said there was no chance of survival.

When a protester called his wife a murderer, Gouveia confronted them.

"So you're yelling at my wife for doing nothing more than having a nearly dead baby inside her?" Gouveia asked the protesters.

One of the protesters threatened to call the police on Gouveia because he was standing on the sidewalk yelling at them.


Fetal Separatism

Lynn Paltrow has a thought-provoking essay in RH Reality Check about the radical agenda behind Amendment 62, a Colorado ballot initiative that would declare a fertilized egg to be full-fledged human being. If Amendment 62 passes, it would outlaw abortion, in vitro fertilization, and legally complicate any medical procedure on a pregnant woman that might affect the well-being of her fetus.

Paltrow argues that the bill's backers should be called "Fetal Separatists":

This organization claims that its goal is to end the "injustice of abortion.” In fact they are promoting a Fetal Separatist movement, one that is trying to legally separate pregnant women and the fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses inside of them. Their efforts are dangerous to all pregnant women including those who go to term, those who expect confidential medical care, and those who want to preserve their right to life and liberty.

The argument that eggs and fetuses may be treated as if they are legally independent of the women who carry them has been used to deprive pregnant women of their status as full constitutional persons.

Supporters of the measure say they want to extend rights to eggs and fetuses, but as Paltrow points out, this kind of thinking reveals another aspect of their agenda: Diminishing the rights of pregnant women by elevating the "rights" of fetuses. Paltrow gives examples of women who were imprisoned or harassed by authorities who felt they had an obligation to control the woman to protect her fetus. In one case a woman was imprisoned in a Florida hospital because authorities thought it was the best thing for her fetus. In another incident, fetal separatist arguments advanced to justify dispatching a sheriff to the home of a woman who was attempting to have a home birth.

According to the latest poll, 20% of Coloradans support Amendment 62, 56% oppose it, and 25% remain undecided.

CO abstinence program tied to anti-gay groups in Uganda

Speaking of the religious right in Colorado, Andy Kopsa of the Colorado Independent reports that a teen abstinence program known as WAIT Training, which has received over $8 million in federal funds since 2005, has ties to a virulently anti-gay group in Uganda led by pastor Martin Ssempa.

Ssempa is one of the leading proponents of legislation known as the "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda. The bill would not only make homosexual sex a capital offense, it would also force Ugandans to turn in their gay friends and neighbors. So far, the bill hasn't passed. The U.S. government officially opposes the legislation, but some major conservative Christian groups in the U.S. supported the bill. Of course, they now claim they didn't actually support killing LGBT people, they just wanted to help Uganda become a more godly nation.

WAIT worked with Ssempa to build a website, print business cards, and develop a video and other promotional materials. WAIT said it was unable to provide Kopsa with copies of any of the materials that it worked on with Ssempa. WAIT maintained formal ties with Ssempa until January of 2010, when they decided they didn't want to be associated with him any more, perhaps because the media scrutiny became too intense. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and other prestigious media outlets ran op/eds condemning the anti-gay bill in January of 2010.

A major Ugandan newspaper recently published a "top 100" list of alleged homosexuals under the headline "Hang Them," according to Laura Gottesdiener at the Ms. blog. Since the story ran, several of the subjects have been attacked.

The dynamic is very similar to the persecution of Dr. Tiller. First targets are identified and held up to hate and ridicule. Some are intimidated and go away. Those who don't are marked for violence.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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