Supreme Court Decision on Abortion: A Death Sentence for Women–and our Rights?

 This from Newsweek:

My Turn: I Had That Now-Banned Abortion

I needed that now-banned procedure known as ‘partial-birth’ abortion.
Why the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw it was a dark day for
American women.

By Ilene Jaroslaw

Updated: 4:44 p.m. CT April 23, 2007

April 23, 2007 – It was Friday afternoon at nursery school and Simone
just couldn’t wait until Mother’s Day to give me her present-a tote
bag printed with a photo of the two of us.  When we got home, Toby
greeted me with the card he’d made for me in kindergarten.  We all
looked forward to dad coming home from a business trip.  It was the
start of a perfect Mother’s Day weekend.  I was 40, and I was
joyfully pregnant.  “It’ll be three kids by next Mother’s Day,” I
remember thinking.

When Monday came, I called my doctor for the results of my quadruple
screen blood test from the past week, nothing I really sweated
because a CVS test a couple months before had told us that our baby’s
chromosomes were completely normal. This time though, the doctor said
that one of the screening tests concerned him and asked me to go to
the hospital right away.

The ultrasound technician’s silence told David and me that something
was very wrong.  The doctor explained that the baby had anencephaly,
a neural tube defect.  Large parts of the brain were missing.  Babies
who survive birth may live days or weeks or months, but they perceive
nothing, not even a mother’s touch. There was no mistake, and nothing
to be done.  I scheduled an abortion.  On Wednesday, May 14, 2003, in
the early morning, 17 weeks into the pregnancy, David drove me to the
operating room and I had my abortion.  That night we told Toby and
Simone that the baby did not grow all the parts that a baby needs to
live, and had died.  We hugged and cried.

On Wednesday, April 18, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court suggested that
women do not fully comprehend the abortion procedure, and thus may
come to regret it.  Not this woman. Four years ago,  I asked my
doctor whether the Federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which was then
being considered by Congress, would outlaw the dilation and
evacuation procedure he intended to use.  Yes, he told me, it would.

Before I became a mother, I’d had two uterine fibroid surgeries that
weakened the walls of my uterus.  After the second surgery, my
obstetrician-gynecologist advised that my children would have to be
delivered weeks before my due date by cesarean section to minimize
the risk of uterine rupture.  Toby was born by early cesarean in
1997, and Simone in 1999 also by early cesarean.  Before my abortion,
my surgeon knew that my uterus had undergone four prior surgeries,
and he also knew that I ached for a third child.  I pleaded with him
not to do anything in the operating room that could possibly
compromise my ability to have another child.  My surgeon promised me
he would do everything he could to preserve my fertility, and he kept
his word.  I am forever grateful.  And one day my 2 ?-year-old
daughter will be too.

My health and future fertility depended on the best available medical
care, which in this case meant that I needed the intact dilation and
evacuation procedure, or “partial-birth abortion” to use the
non-medical, ideological term.  This wrongly politicized, legitimate
and standard medical procedure results in the removal of the fetus
with the least probing and instrumentation, greatly reducing the risk
to the woman of bleeding, infection and uterine rupture, all of which
may lead to infertility.

Last Wednesday was a dark day for women, and for the men in their
lives who care about the health, autonomy, freedom and equality of
women in 21st-century America.  The high court took a giant step
backward when it upheld the federal abortion ban, sweeping aside
decades of its own constitutional precedent protecting women’s
health, in favor of ideology.

The Supreme Court decision means that judges and lawmakers may now
dictate to doctors what they can and cannot do in the operating room.
It means that surgeons who want to do what’s best for their patients
do so now at the risk of criminal prosecution.  And it means that
thousands of women will undergo second-best procedures carrying
greater risk; many will face dire health consequences, as well as the
loss of future fertility.  We are now in a country where judges and
lawmakers are allowed to tell doctors how best to care for their
patients.  This cannot stand.

For my daughters Naomi and Simone, for my son Toby’s future wife, and
for all girls and women in the United States, today the hard work of
repealing the federal abortion ban must begin.

Ilene Jaroslaw is a lawyer in New York.

See also:


University of Colorado Professor: Why We Must Support Ward Churchill–a letter to skeptical colleagues

April 19, 2007

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing in response to the refusal of many of my academic colleagues to look carefully at the firing of Professor Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado-Boulder. It is true that many people disagree with some of Professor Churchill’s stances, and others find his controversial statements to be offensive. However, even the University of Colorado found that his statements were, in fact, protected under the United States Constitution.

What I find profoundly disturbing is the fact that people do not seem to be able to distinguish between supporting a principle and supporting a person. It is our ethical obligation to support principles of integrity, objectivity, due process and academic freedom, even if we detest the individual whose acts are under consideration. Further, I find it appalling that many of my colleagues who refuse to support Professor Churchill are doing so in ignorance of what really has actually transpired here at the University of Colorado and with a profound lack of information about the facts of the case on the ground. Let me explain, and let me assure you that I am not a “Churchill groupie!!” I, too, once had serious misgivings about Professor Churchill’s scholarship, given the media firestorm that surrounded this case and the nearly total blackout on any alternative perspectives on the matter.

It is critical to realize that one very important fact of academic life has haunted this entire process: Faculty naively have come to trust that the procedures governing reviews, due process, academic freedom and faculty governance are, in fact, fair, appropriate, and duly constituted. The University of Colorado administration has capitalized cynically on that trust in ways that has allowed said administration to put together what looks like a fair process, but which, in fact, has been totally hijacked. What has happened at the University of Colorado makes a mockery of both due process and academic freedom protections, AND what faculty believe. It is a cruel violation of the delicate balance between faculty rights and administrative responsibilities. What happened at CU has allowed the CU administration to argue that “the process worked” and that faculty themselves found that Churchill should be fired. Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.

Many scholars refuse to question the outcomes of the Churchill case on the grounds that duly constituted faculty and administrative bodies have found serious misconduct on Churchill’s part. If only this were true. The truth is that the special investigating committee only appeared to be duly constituted. In fact, some of its members were biased against Churchill from the outset and the body itself did not constitute an appropriate investigative body. Its chair already had preconceived negative opinions about Professor Churchill. It did not include anyone from Churchill’s own specific area, and thus, he was not judged by a jury of his disciplinary peers. The one person with expertise in Indian Affairs was an expert in Indian law only, not the only area in which Churchill writes. Most egregious, the committee inappropriately relied on very limited information from sources known to be biased against Professor Churchill and his perspectives in American Indian scholarship to create their report. Even the charges of plagiarism, those most disturbing to competent scholars, do not hold up. The entire process was a sham—imitating the form, but not the intent, of due process and fair, objective, scholarly investigation. The actions of the committee violated the intent of laws of the CU Regents, and both the intent and the form of AAUP guidelines on due process and academic freedom, guidelines which CU says they uphold. Clearly, CU did not uphold these guidelines in the Churchill case and others on campus. Clearly, the hijacking of once-revered procedures poses a danger to all of us. Ward Churchill could be any of us. This could happen to ANY of us.

Many academics also have argued that if an investigation, even one generated for motives that are questionable, nonetheless turns up evidence of serious misconduct, that misconduct must, in fact, be addressed and punished. If only the investigation had really turned up such evidence in the record of Professor Churchill! However, even a cursory examination of the investigatory report itself reveals it to be fatally flawed with error and misrepresentation. One of these errors was admitted by the chair of the investigatory committee on April 9, just days after it had been revealed to the press by Dr. Eric Cheyfitz of Cornell University, a distinguished scholar in both Indian studies and Indian law. Dr. Cheyfitz, in fact, argues that the investigatory committee’s report should be rescinded as a disgrace to scholarship–an opinion with which I concur. I urge fellow academicians to read Dr. Cheyfitz’s analysis of the facts of the report, as well as the investigatory committee’s report itself. They are revelatory. The actions of the committee are far worse than any of the charges leveled against Churchill; at least his “errors”—even if they were true—did not stand to ruin a human being’s reputation and a scholar’s career. This could happen to ANY of us.

I do urge you to look a bit more deeply into this important case. It is not limited to Colorado. In fact, it is a test case by the US right wing to emasculate faculty rights in US universities. It is spearheaded by ACTA, the Association of College Trustees and Alumni and other similar organizations. Should you feel that I am exaggerating, I simply refer you to ACTA’s own publications, including “The Colorado Model: Any State Can,” “How Many More Ward Churchills?” and most recently, “Friends in High Places.” It is very important that all of us who value academic freedom and the integrity of the university stand up and support the campaign to prevent witch hunts such as have occurred with Professor Churchill from ever occurring again.

Margaret D. LeCompte, PhD
Professor of Education
University of Colorado-Boulder
(President, CU-AAUP Chapter–provided for information purposes only)

Urgent: Open Letter in Defense of Ward Churchill–Movement Makes Last Stand

The mobilization in defense of Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado, Boulder has reached a critical stage. The President of the University is set to decide Churchill’s fate very soon. Standing up against witch hunting and for academic freedom, a large movement has emerged to defend Churchill. This movement has planned rally and forum, attended by scholars and activists from across the country, in Boulder on April 28.

It is imperative that friends, colleages, and media outlets supporting academic freedom be involved in spreading the word in this last push to stop the dismissal of Churchill. Please consider publishing any or all of the content in the attached documents below. They include an open letter in support of Ward Churchill, signed by dozens of prominent intellectuals, a solidarity statement from noted historian Howard Zinn, and a letter from a Boulder professor explaining why, no matter anyone’s personal assessment of Churchill’s person or scholarship, the principle at stake here is of enormous significance.

The time is now to send a message to the administrators of the University of Colorado System:

G.P. “Bud” Peterson, Chancellor University of Colorado- Boulder
Phone: 303-492-8908
17 UCB, Regent 301
Boulder, CO 80309

Philip DiStefano, Faculty, Exec Vice Chancellor & Provost
Office: 303-492-5537
17 UCB, Office of the Chancellor
Boulder, CO 80309
We must support Churchill, because an injury to one is an injury to all.

Open Letter:  open-letter-by-prominent-intellectuals-in-support-of-ward-churchill.pdf

Letters of solidarity from Howard Zinn and other distinguished professors:

Statement in Support of Professor Ward Churchill
by Historian Howard Zinn

I have declared my support of Ward Churchill because to defend him is to defend the principle of academic freedom, the idea that no one should lose his or her job or status in education because of factors outside of teaching and scholarship.  Those factors — political, ideological — are evident in his case, and they are joined by a mean-spiritedness which does not belong in an academic or any other environment.  The attack on Ward Churchill comes at a time in our nation’s history when constitutional rights are under attack by the national government, when war threatens the lives and well-being of all,  and therefore we need the marketplace of  ideas to be as open as possible.  If we want to live in a democracy we must protect that openness. That is why defending Ward Churchill has an importance far beyond his particular situation.

Howard Zinn
Professor emeritus, Boston University

Statement in Support of Professor Ward Churchill
by Professor Richard Falk

All of us who value academic freedom should now stand in full solidarity with Ward Churchill.  The outcome of his case at the University of Colorado is the best
litmus test we have to tell whether the right-wing’s assaults on learning and liberty will stifle campus life in this country.  Never in my lifetime have we in America more needed the sort of vigorous debate and creative controversy that Ward Churchill’s distinguished career epitomizes. We all stand to lose if his principled defense fails.

Richard Falk
Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University;
Visiting Distinguished Professor (since 2002), Global Studies,
University of California, Santa Barbara

Statement in Support of Professor Ward Churchill
by Professor Peter N. Kirstein

If one looks at America today, one sees the thunder of the right as a strategic threat to higher education. Ward Churchill’s persecution and silencing before his scheduled appearance at Hamilton College, and the possibility of the revocation of his “continuous” tenure is symptomatic of the persecution of progressive faculty. It is essential that American Association of Unviersity Professor guidelines be addressed to reverse this execrable auto da fe. “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results…” American Association of University Professors, “1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.”  I have been persuaded by both the AAUP C.U. president and other analyses that the alleged academic misconduct of Professor Churchill was either scant or non-existent. I have seen nothing that would suggest he should be fired. The 1970 Second Interpretive Comment of the 1940 Statement also pronounced: The intent of the statement is not to discourage what is “controversial.” Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster.

Also suspension cannot be levied unless there is an imminent threat to the individul or to others. That is the ONLY basis of a suspension according to many A.A.U.P. documents such as the ninth “1970 Interpretive Comment” of the “1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure,” the “1958 Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings” and the revised 1999 “Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure.. I was suspended for an anti-war e-mail to the Air Force Academy and I know the literature quite well.  C.U. would do well to fully apply this epochal statement and other A.A.U.P. academic freedom policies to the current controversy over Professor Churchill’s status as a tenured full-professor. My statement, however, is my own.

Peter N. Kirstein
Professor of History
Saint Xavier University
Vice-President Elect, A.A.U.P. Illinois Conference

In defense of protesting the Minutemen

San Antonio students speak out about their protest of Minuteman Chris Simcox last week:

Why we shut down Chris Simcox last week

Issue date: 4/16/07 Section: Letter to the Editor

A multi-racial coalition of students and workers
shouted down an attempted speech by Chris Simcox,
founder of the vigilante Minuteman Project. Many
students disagreed with our actions. What about
Simcox’s right to free speech?

First of all, we did nothing to stop Simcox from
talking. We simply talked louder than he did.
His right to free speech confers no obligation on
us to sit silently and listen to him spew racist
nonsense. Our protest was entirely non-violent;
the only violence was committed by the police,
who left at least one person covered in bruises.
Secondly, in a just society Simcox and his
Minuteman thugs would be rotting in prison rather
than giving speeches at college campuses. The
Southern Poverty Law Center has clearly
established ties between the Minutemen and white
nationalist groups like the National Alliance and
the KKK.

They have quoted Minuteman volunteers saying such
things as “It should be legal to kill illegals.”
The fact that the cops had their fists and
handcuffs trained on us rather than the
hatemonger Simcox says a lot about our country.
Simply put, there is no “dialogue” or “debate” to
be had with fascists like the Minutemen.
Allowing gutter racists to speak freely only
lends them undue credibility and makes the
“softer” forms of bigotry represented by
politicians seem like a reasonable alternative.
We make no apology for being unruly and
confrontational. A look at our country’s history
suggests that unruly protests are often the most
effective: from the Boston Tea Party to John
Brown’s Raid to the numerous protests of the
1960s, activists have often achieved great things
by disregarding pointless rules of decorum.

Some suggest that the Minutemen are a fringe
group who should just be ignored. However,
history teaches us that fascism must be faced
down militantly whenever and wherever it crops
up. The Nazis started out as an isolated fringe
group as well. Rather than take the fight to the
Nazis in the streets, the anti-Nazi opposition in
Germany chose to rely on “acceptable” forms of
resistance such as electioneering and filing
lawsuits. As a result, the Nazis were able to
seize power by force and have their opponents
executed. The fact that Hitler had the backing
of the German ruling class was a major factor in
his ability to come to power, which is what makes
the Minutemen so disturbing. Their policy of
anti-immigrant scapegoating plays right into the
hands of the owners of American corporations, who
do everything they can to redirect the outrage of
American workers over wage cuts and layoffs to an
“alien” source.

Our protest sent a powerful message to both the
Minuteman and the capitalist bosses whose
interests they serve: ¡Las luchas obreras no
tienen fronteras!

Justin Felux
Student Worker Teacher Alliance

Disappointed with UTSAPD

Issue date: 4/17/07 Section: Opinion

I’ve been at UTSA for four years, and the UTSA
police have always been helpful, kind and
involved in campus events – always at a respected
distance. However, I firmly believe that if the
UTSA police had not been involved with the
demonstrators in the way that they had, the
protest against Minutemen Defense Corps founder,
Chris Simcox, would not have escalated to such a
chaotic and dangerous situation.

Granted, the police were there to prevent the
demonstrators from getting too close to the
stage, but there are smart and safe strategies
the UTSA police must have used. On Wednesday,
the UTSA police were pushing, shoving, ripping up
banners, physically touching demonstrators
inappropriately and leaving some of the
demonstrators with bruises.

Many of us were disappointed with the lack of
training of the UTSA police to deal with the
situation and the lack of respect for the
students of their own campus and people of the
San Antonio community. Our intention was to
engage in the discourse on our own terms, and not
get physical. The situation became physical
because the crowd was provoked by the actions of
the UTSA police.

We left that day with a loss of respect for
certain officers of the police department. I
want to emphasize that we are UTSA students, we
pay money to come here, we’re proud to be here,
and it is our campus! It is our right to engage
in discourse and protest against and for things
that we feel strongly about, which is part of the
historical and international environment of
universities and colleges.

Students have always been engaged in actions like
the one on Wednesday, but it is only under
repressive governments that students are targeted
for this type of discourse and discouraged. One
of the methods that universities and governments
used was to take pictures and videos of student
protestors to harass and have under surveillance,
much like the same way UTSA police were doing.

Regardless of your attendance and the
demonstration or how you feel about the
immigration issue, we are a community at UTSA.
No one from our community should have been
treated like the UTSA police treated their

Carla Gomez

Abortion Rights Are Under Attack!

The rest of that slogan usually goes: “What are we gonna do? Stand up, fight back!”

One can only wish that the dormant abortion rights movement had been educating the public and building a movement to challenge the decision like the one that came down from the Supreme Court  yesterday–before it happened. Instead, the “movement,” such as it is, has been preoccupied with two misguided strategies:

1) Campaign and vote for candidates from the Democratic party. Relying on Democrats to protect abortion rights is like turning over a child abused by his father over to the Catholic church–well intentioned noises are a cover for ongoing violation. Clinton curtailed abortion rights. The Hyde amendment in 1976 was a Democratic initiative, renewed every year, that bars poor women from receiving funds to help them afford abortions. (And then, when they are denied that, they are vilified for having children out of wedlock; their kids get no help from the system, either. It is the height of hypocrisy.) Roe was handed down by a conservative court when Nixon was President–because there was a movement of hundreds of thousands holding our rulers’ feet to the fire.

2) Stressing “common ground” with abortion opponents, pitching prevention and contraception to the exclusion of even mentioning abortion as necessary to women’s liberation; giving ground on the question of whether abortion is a moral wrong. Even this morning, the day after the decision outlawing late term intact dilation and extraction abortion–an extremely rare procedure undertaken only in situations of gross fetal malformation or threats to the life of the mother misnamed by the right as “partial birth” abortion, the Director of Planned Parenthood gave an interview to NPR in which she not once mentioned abortion rights. Instead, she wished the right would get on board with contraception education. This stance is nothing less than a betrayal of women who fought for and still depend up the right to control their lives.

The failure to mention defense of the right to abortion is made more traitorous by the fact that the Court upheld a decision that made no exception for the life or health of the mother. We may as well have decided that it is ok to shoot women in the head if they have life-threatening complications at the end of pregnancy.

It is painfully clear by now that this strategy, pioneered by Naomi Wolff and Hillary Clinton, has not stemmed the anti-abortion onslaught. It is insane to keep employing this strategy when we know abortion rights were won by a fighting movement that realized that control over reproduction is key to the freedom of women worldwide.

Many people don’t know that 46% of women in the U.S. over the course of their lifetimes will seek an abortion.  Young women, poor women, religious women, radical women, conservative women, liberal women, women of color, women with disabilities, married women, and single women. Most of these women seek very early first-trimester abortions when the developing fetus is little more than a clump of cells. For many, like me, the ability to choose abortion means the difference between a life lived in undereducated hardship and a fully realized personhood.

This court decision is widely recognized to put us one step nearer to losing the right to choose at all. Already nearly 90% of counties have no abortion providers. Many states put punitive and dangerous restrictions–parental  consent, spousal consent, waiting period, and so on–on the right, making young and poor women and victims of domestic abuse either have babies or wait until abortion is much more complicated and dangerous.

Since the early 1990s, the women’s movement has given ground to anti-abortion forces and here we are. I am terrified that a whole new generation of women and men will have to learn in the back alleys and septic wards, the hard way, what it means to lose this basic right. Those forced to have children will learn the hard way, too, the limits of what the right means when it says it is “pro-life.” Only until you are born. Then, you and your parents are on your own.

We should be in open revolt. All I can say to the leadership of the mainstream women’s movement is, stay out of my way.

More on this decision from a friend:

The Supreme Court just handed down a ruling upholding the federal law outlawing ‘partial birth’ abortion.  From a very quick skimming of the opinion, (called Gonzales v. Carhart) it appears to be a substantial departure  from Roe & Casey that will have  big ramifications for women’s reproductive rights well beyond the area of partial birth abortions.  Here’s why:

The case is a substantial departure from Casey & Stenborg in three respects:

-it seems to obliterate the requirement for a mother’s health exception by endorsing the claim that partial birth abortions of the kind targeted here  are never  medically necessary, and therefore no health exception is required;

-it seems to undo the line between pre-viability abortions and post-viability abortions by asserting that “the fetus is a living  organism while in the womb, whether or not it is viable outside of the  womb.” That may effectively open the door to many more restrictions on early term abortions. (This may be the most damaging part of the  opinion.)

-further, the court seems to bypass the usual constitutionally  accepted reasons for restricting abortions – mother’s health and interest in potential life as fetal viability (the law in question only bans a certain abortion procedure, it does not ban abortions in any individual case per se). Rather, there appears to be a kind of normative or moral reasoning here that gives a new and very different meaning to the state’s “interest in potential life”  that does not pertain to the fate of a single fetus.

There might not be much that remains of Roe.