What You Need to Know About Tomorrow’s Supreme Court Abortion Case

Botched abortions. Filthy medical instruments. Unlicensed staff administering controlled substances.

These are some of the frightening practices that have pervaded abortion facilities across Louisiana. Women deserve to be safe from negligent practices like this. But in Louisiana, patients weren’t sufficiently protected—some of them paid a terrible price.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear a case called June Medical Services v. Russo that will decide if a Louisiana law addressing these problems will be upheld.

A Heartbreaking Story

One woman named Brenda J. went to a Louisiana abortion facility to get an abortion. During the procedure, the abortion practitioner perforated her uterus and left her bleeding on the operating table for over seven hours. The abortion practitioner finally sent Brenda to the hospital, but he didn’t call an ambulance. He had a staff member take Brenda in their car and instructed the staff member to lie to the hospital about what had happened.

As a result, the doctors and staff at the hospital did not know Brenda was suffering from a botched abortion procedure, so they didn’t know how to properly treat her. Days later, they found Brenda’s baby’s skull in her uterus. The doctors treated Brenda as best they could and they were able to save Brenda’s life—but not her torn, infected uterus. Because of the abortion practitioner’s decision to prioritize his reputation and convenience over Brenda’s life, Brenda was left infertile.

Several Louisiana women have stories like Brenda’s, and Louisiana legislators realized they had a dangerous health and safety issue on their hands. So, in 2014, the legislature passed Act 620, the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, to protect women from incompetent abortion practitioners. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support, with a vote of 88-5 in the House and 34-3 in the Senate.

March for Life Signs: The Bad and the Ugly

I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of the March for Life. Still, I’d never been, so I was excited to take the opportunity to go for the first time last year. Now, big gatherings aren’t exactly my thing, and the March is roughly 20 times the size of my hometown by population, so I was a little on edge to start. Still, I live in a very pro-choice part of the country (Boston), so there’s something inspiring about seeing hundreds of thousands of people gathering to proclaim that they oppose the wrongful killing of fetal humans. Do I think the March for Life is helping end abortion as much as some people seem to think it is? No, probably not. Do I think it’s, on the whole, positive? Sure.

Except for the signs.

Some of the signs weren’t bad. The first signs I saw as we walked towards the pre-March rally were those passed out by particular groups; they may have had branding and some kind of slogan, but they were pretty neutral and “classically pro-life” with your average positive messaging. But I would classify many of the signs that I saw as actively detrimental to the pro-life cause.

Maybe you’ve never seen the signs or really thought about them in detail, or maybe you already sympathize with my frustrations. Either way, you might wonder why it matters for me to talk about all of these signs (and surely they’re not representative of the entire March)? Besides, you might say, the media consistently has neglected the event, so it’s not like anyone actually sees the signs.

What we see influences us. If the major pro-life event of the year is full of low-quality sloganeering that disposes us to be less thoughtful about the pro-life position and less compassionate to pro-choice people, we normalize ineffective and immoral behavior for the rest of the year. This is a self-reinforcing cycle capable of doing lasting damage to the pro-life movement. We are training ourselves in mediocrity.

These signs also send a message to others and ourselves that this is who we are and how we think. Bad signs speak poorly of the movement. If our signage indicates that we don’t understand what pro-choice people think and that we demonize them any chance we get, even if our movement as a whole isn’t really like that, we’re giving people every reason to believe those things about us. When your pro-choice friend sees your pictures on social media, the signs in the background could turn them off from ever having a good-faith conversation with you.

I want to share a few of the worst signs with you to illustrate why certain approaches to public messaging are problematic. Then, I’d like to give you a few ideas to raise our game so we can more effectively advocate for the pro-life position during marches and public demonstrations.

What does Ohio House Bill 413 say about Ectopic Pregnancy?

You’ve probably seen people on social media sharing harsh articles like this one titled, “Anti-Abortion Extremism Goes Full Psycho“. You should know what this bill says. Many people are stating Ohio House Bill 413 would require doctors to attempt reimplantation of ectopic pregnancies, which is currently impossible, and is therefore designed to put OBs in jail for something completely out of their control.

Unfortunately, having carefully read this section of the bill, we don’t blame people for thinking that, because the language of the bill is incredibly vague.

The text of the bill, from page 184, reads: “Takes all POSSIBLE steps to preserve the life of the unborn child, while preserving the life of the woman. Such steps include, IF APPLICABLE, attempting to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into the woman’s uterus.” [Emphasis added.]

We see multiple problems with this language.

First, what does “possible” mean? If some pro-life lawmakers (wrongly) think that there’s a 1% chance of survival if you move the embryo from the fallopian tube to the uterus, which is greater than the 0% chance an embryo would have as a result of even a salpingectomy (the least controversial medical procedure used to intervene in an ectopic pregnancy), then couldn’t it be argued that every ectopic pregnancy surgery should be a reimplantation effort? Maybe that’s not the intent of the lawmaker, but it’s far from clear.

Secondly, what does “if applicable” mean? When is it applicable to attempt an impossible reimplantation? Is it only “applicable” if the embryo is still alive when the surgery happens? Or is it only “applicable” if the doctor deems it possible? Maybe the intent of the lawmaker was just to leave open the possibility of reimplantation attempts if the technique is ever developed with future technology. But again, that’s far from clear.

So, what would happen if this bill passed, besides it being stopped by an immediate injunction since it violates Roe vs. Wade and Casey vs. Planned Parenthood? Most likely, some OB would get dragged into court by the state to enforce this bill, and the OB will attempt to prove emphatically that reimplantation isn’t possible.

But just because OBs probably wouldn’t go to jail doesn’t mean this is a good, well-written law. What are the drafters trying to do? The charitable interpretation is that the drafters are attempting to anticipate and promote research into the feasibility of doing reimplantation with current or (more likely) future medical technologies. The problem is, they’re doing it in a totally sloppy way. At minimum, it makes it look like pro-life people are ignorant of the current state of medical science and think that reimplanting ectopic pregnancies is possible right now. It’s also bad if pro-life legislators pass a law that would attempt to jail an OB for an impossible procedure and only fail because the OB shows in court that it’s impossible.

It is important for pro-life advocates to be clear about scientific facts because the movement is often rhetorically painted as being “anti-science.” Understandably, many pro-lifers have been concerned that this bill lends strength to that narrative. What do you think?

ERI Statement on the Abortion Subplot in Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”

Netflix recently published the third season of 13 Reasons Why, a show whose first two seasons were criticized for aiming graphic, mature content at a young intended audience. In the second episode of the third season, there is an abortion subplot that misrepresents the pro-life movement and sidewalk counseling so severely that it can only be described as propaganda. The character seeking an abortion first goes to a deceptive pregnancy resource center she believes is an abortion facility and then in another scene goes to the abortion facility and is met by a group of deceptive anti-abortion protestors.

13 Reasons Why logo

The primary scene we want to comment on is the scene at the abortion facility. It depicts a harmful caricature of the reality of sidewalk counseling and could be no further from what ERI teaches in the Sidewalk Counseling Masterclass. The abortion-minded woman is met by a group of Christians when she arrives at the clinic. They call out to her asking her to pray with them and telling her God loves her and her baby. Then a woman approaches her wearing an orange vest labeled “Clinic Escort” and she says, “Come on, let’s walk past the crazies,” and clearly acts like she is with the abortion clinic, not the Christian group. The pregnant woman’s boyfriend says to her, “This day is hard enough” to which the woman in the vest responds, “It should be hard. Killing is a sin.” In this moment the pregnant woman realizes that she has been deceived by the woman in the vest, who is actually one of the protestors in disguise. Then, the fake escort says “Take this” and puts a bloody fetal model in the abortion-minded woman’s hand and pleads with her to not go through with the abortion. 

This is not at all representative of sidewalk counseling. We have worked with many sidewalk counselors across the United States as well as pro-life organizations who train sidewalk counselors, and we can say with confidence that deception of abortion-minded women is openly condemned. In our own training course, we instruct sidewalk counselors who wear vests for their safety because of incoming traffic to always try to choose a vest that is a different color of any escorts who are at the clinic. The vests that we will be selling online for the safety of pro-life advocates say “Pregnancy Resource Advocate” with the purpose of distinguishing them from the abortion facility because we believe it is wrong and harmful to deceive the abortion-minded person into thinking we are a clinic escort. 

Sidewalk counseling is not about protesting abortion or shaming women coming to the clinic. It is about offering information and resources to those who would like to make a different choice.

Bringing Some Clarity to the Shooting of Marshae Jones Story

I’ve spent the last hour reading various stories about the Marshae Jones case, and I’d like to try to provide a few facts worth noting, since rarely did any of the stories include all of them. Mainstream media outlets are clearly jumping on the story and being flagrantly misleading with their headlines; pro-choice groups are jumping at the chance to accuse Alabama of being racist and wanting to prosecute pregnant women for abortions; and at least one pro-life group has tried to help but provided some faulty thought experiments.

So, let’s get some facts on the table and try to think well about this tragic story.

Fact #1: Marshae Jones, the mother, was the aggressor in this fight, not the shooter.

Marshae Jones. Photograph: Reuters

Marshae Jones. Photograph: Reuters

You certainly wouldn’t know this from the headlines, but virtually every news story agrees on the fact that Jones, with three of her friends, attacked Ebony Jemison while she was on a lunch break at work with three of her friends. Jones seems to have initiated the fight because she was jealous about Jemison’s interaction with Jones’s boyfriend. All three of them worked at the same place, Jones suspected something was going on, and convinced three of her friends to accompany her to initiate a fight with Jemison.

Fact #2: Marshae Jones knew she was 5 months pregnant when she attacked Ebony Jemison.

This isn’t a case where a mother didn’t know that she was pregnant and then had a miscarriage. She was late into her 2nd trimester, and yet initiated a serious physical confrontation with another woman and three of her friends.

Fact #3: Ebony Jemison fired a warning shot in self-defense, and the bullet ricocheted off the ground and hit Jones.

Jemison wasn’t trying to hit Jones. She claims that she was afraid, (and it seems, reasonably so) and fired a warning shot at the ground hoping it would get Jones and her friends to back off. In a horrible and very unlikely coincidence, that bullet hit the ground and then ricocheted and hit Jones in the stomach.