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A Day in the Life

Inside an Oklahoma Abortion Clinic

A husband and wife have provided abortions for 40 years in a state with tight restrictions and few providers. Allison Yarrow spends a day with them at their clinic.

Norman, Okla.—Angie is here at the office of Dr. Larry Burns for an abortion because she doesn’t want to be a mother at 21. Her sister went that route, having a son after being expelled from high school, and Angie, a pretty black psychology major who says she’s the family’s “golden child,” can’t “mess up.” She intends to be first in her family to complete college, to become a doctor treating soldiers suffering from PTSD.

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Dr. Larry Burns' Clinic in Oklahoma. (Allison Yarrow/Newsweek)

Burns and his wife, Debby, who also manages the office, “rise with the chickens,” as Debby puts it, to open their abortion clinic in Norman, Okla., at 7 a.m. four days a week.

I’ve made the three-hour drive south from Wichita, Ks. on I-135, which has been traveled by many of the women Burns sees. They make the trek because there is no doctor in the metro area of more than half a million people who performs abortions. The dearth results not from restrictive laws, but from the 2009 murder, in his church’s lobby, of Dr. George Tiller, who provided abortions, including late-term abortions. Before he was fatally shot by anti-abortion protester Scott Roeder, Tiller had survived the bombing of his clinic in 1985, been besieged by protests during Operation Rescue’s 1991 “summer of mercy,” shot in both arms in 1993, and tried and acquitted in 2008 for 19 misdemeanor charges of circumventing the letter of a state law requiring a second opinion before performing an abortion. When he was murdered, the clinic closed and his name still resonates as a cautionary tale about the perils of providing abortions.

Latest Updates

‘After Tiller’

Abortion’s Last Four Standing

‘After Tiller,’ the Sundance documentary named after the physician gunned down in 2009, follows the four doctors in America who still perform third-trimester abortions. Marlow Stern speaks with three of the doctors about the abortion battle, and their fanatical foes.

We’re 40 years after Roe v. Wade, and the women in America are in worse shape than they were 40 years ago. Their rights are being trampled in the street.

After Tiller

A scene from "After Tiller." (Yes and No Productions)

These are the words of Dr. LeRoy Carhart. A former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Carhart is one of only four doctors in the entire country who publicly perform late-term abortions, loosely defined as those in the third trimester of pregnancy (25 weeks) and beyond.

Carhart, along with Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella, were protégés of Dr. George Tiller—a late-term abortion provider who was shot in the head and killed by an anti-abortion activist in 2009 while serving as an usher during Sunday morning mass in Wichita, Kansas. He was the eighth abortion provider to be murdered in the wake of Roe v. Wade. This trio, along with Dr. Warren Hern, a contemporary of Tiller’s who has been performing abortions since 1973 and was even present during the arguing of Roe v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court, are the subjects of Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s After Tiller, a controversial documentary that premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Reasonable

Radio Pundit Likens Planned Parenthood to Hitler

Radio Pundit Likens Planned Parenthood to Hitler Mat Staver in 2006. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

By radio pundit.

What images come to mind when you hear the words “Planned Parenthood?” Well, if it ain’t the Third Reich and concentration camps, you’re clearly doing it wrong. On Liberty Counsel’s “Faith and Freedom” radio show Sunday, host Mat Staver honored the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade by likening federal funding for Planned Parenthood to “enriching Hitler.” Funding abortion, he said, is no different from funding a “Hitler kind of killing machine, or Pol Pot, or some of these other genocide tyrants.” Cecile Richards, we always knew you looked suspicious. 

Read it at Right Wing Watch

40TH ANNIVERSARY

Poll: Majority Want Abortion Legal

Poll: Majority Want Abortion Legal Abortion activists in D.C. in Jan. 2012. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty)

For the first time.

This probably is not what Todd Akin wanted. For the first time since the groundbreaking Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, a majority of Americans want abortion to stay legal—and seven in 10 respondents oppose overturning the case. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday, the intense rhetoric about abortion and rape by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock and the debate over contraception have caused attitudes to shift toward abortion. Fifty-four percent of adults said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and a combined 44 percent said it should be illegal with no exceptions. And 70 percent said Roe v. Wade should not be overturned—with 57 percent backing that sentiment strongly.

Read it at NBC News

On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, readers share their views on the two labels that have come to define the abortion debate. By Michael Keller.

We received a number of interesting responses the other week when we asked our readers why they support or oppose legal abortion. It’s clear, though, that the words we use in the debate don’t neatly capture the differences between peoples’ views.

 

This week, as part of our continuing coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, we’re rephrasing the question. “Pro-choice” and “pro-life” have become accepted shorthand, but they don’t capture everything, so we’re asking readers to explain where you take issue with the labels themselves.

You might be pro-life personally but still believe abortion should be legal. Or, maybe you’re pro-choice but think ultrasounds and waiting periods should be required for anyone who gets an abortion. Add your thoughts below.

The Daily Beast looks at access to abortion services in America, identifying and confirming the location—though not the address—of the country’s remaining 724 clinics, and calculating the distance to the closest clinic in every part of the country. By Michael Keller and Allison Yarrow.

In the four decades since Roe v. Wade, states have enacted hundreds of provisions restricting access to abortion services—the majority of which were legislated in 2011 and 2012. In many cases, these provisions, such as mandatory wait times, make it more difficult for women seeking abortions, and in other cases have caused clinics to close. The most recent abortion-provider census data assembled by the Guttmacher Institute dates back to 2008, and found about 850 clinics.

  

The Daily Beast gathered its own data and called more than 750 clinics, to confirm their locations and the number of weeks of pregnancy through which they offered abortions. Exact clinic locations in this map have been obscured to be neither visible nor retrievable. We focused on clinics and doctor’s offices whose primary businesses are abortion services.

  

SORRY, SANTORUM

Pew Poll: Abortion Not Critical

Pew Poll: Abortion Not Critical Pro-life activists in Washington in Jan. 2012. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty)

Majority do not want Roe v. Wade overturned.

So why exactly is everyone fighting about abortion again? A Pew poll released Wednesday found that not only do a majority of Americans want to keep abortion legal, but also that just 44 percent of those under 30 even knew the landmark Roe v. Wade case dealt with right to terminate a pregnancy. As the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that decriminalized abortion approaches, the poll found that 63 percent of respondents said they did not want the court to overturn the decision—a number unchanged from 10 or even 20 years ago, despite numerous efforts by many states to limit abortion rights. In fact, the poll found that a majority, 53 percent, of those surveyed said that “abortion is not that important compared to other issues.”

Read it at Los Angeles Times

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The NDAA’s Abortion Milestone

Advocates for women in the military applauded a small step for female service members, but noted that significant questions and concerns about the new policy and its implementation remain. Allison Yarrow reports.

The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which the president signed into law late Wednesday night, has been assailed by liberals and libertarians for authorizing the indefinite detention of American citizens. But the annual spending bill this year made a different sort of history as well by repealing the generation-long ban on insurance coverage for abortions for members of the armed services who are victims of rape and incest—finally giving those women the guaranteed affordable coverage in those circumstances that federal prisoners, civilian employees, and Medicaid recipients have long received.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. (Jim Cole/AP)

New Hampshire’s senior senator Jeanne Shaheen, who introduced the amendment repealing the ban that had been in effect since 1981 (PDF), called the bill's passage an “important step” toward ending a policy that was “blatantly unfair to women putting their lives on the line.” Currently, military insurance only covers abortions performed to save the life of the mother, and military health-care facilities will only perform them to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape and incest. Shaheen’s amendment will let insurance pick up the cost of the procedure in such cases, rather than forcing the woman to pay out of pocket.

Before the bill’s passage, “military women have been in a situation that has not applied to anybody else covered by federal health care,” Shaheen told The Daily Beast earlier this month. “Even if you’re in federal prison and you are raped you can get abortion coverage. That has not been true for military women since the early ’80s.”

Right Turn in Lansing

Michigan’s Abortion Bombshell

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed new regulations on facilities and procedures into law, at the end of a controversial lame-duck session that included a bitter right-to-work fight.

Right to Work Michigan

Carlos Osorio/AP

Under the new law, private medical offices where abortions are performed will be required to be licensed as surgical facilities; women seeking an abortion must first meet with a health-care professional to ensure they aren’t being coerced into the procedure; health-care providers can refuse service if their conscience so dictates; and new regulations will be imposed on how fetal remains are disposed.

Snyder surprised many by vetoing related legislation that would only allow insurance coverage of abortions through rider policies that companies could deny. A Planned Parenthood spokeswoman called this a “victory” amidst the package of new restrictions.

Where Abortion is Legal AND Rare

Let's Emulate Germany's Abortion Compromise

Germany has exactly the abortion law contemplated by Roe v. Wade. Abortion is permitted within the first trimester, subject to counseling and a three-day waiting period. Abortion is forbidden thereafter, except when the physical or psychological health of the mother is gravely threatened. The cost of abortion is not generally covered by government health plans. The result: an abortion rate only one-third that of the United States.

Why isn't this a good compromise to emulate?

guttmacher-teen-abortion-rates

LADIES’ MAN

Planned Parenthood for President

Obama’s bold move to align himself squarely with the group could pay dividends with single women voters, reports Allison Yarrow.

Unlike Planned Parenthood’s most diehard supporters, President Barack Obama didn’t need to wear the pink shirt or hand out condoms or packages of birth control. All he had to do was repeat their name.

Planned Parenthood Supporters at Second Presidential Debate

Women protest for continued funding of Planned Parenthood outside Hofstra University prior to the second presidential debate on October 16, 2012 in Hempstead, New York. (Andrew Burton)

At the Town Hall debate Tuesday, Obama mentioned the group four times—each one paired with a mention of Romney’s vow to defund the nation’s largest abortion provider that also delivers an array of other reproductive health services—as 65.6 million viewers watched on television and millions more did so online.

For Planned Parenthood Action Fund President, Cecile Richards, who has taken a short leave to stump for the president, and many of her board members, staffers and volunteers who work on what she called “the hostile front lines” of women’s healthcare, the cheerleading from a sitting president was a watershed moment.

Bullying and Politics

Planned Parenthood: A Thug? Karen Handel Thinks So

Karen Handel, a former Komen honcho, goes for the jugular in a new book, naming the bishops, betrayers, and 'bullies' who she says conspired to create a debacle for the cancer-fighting charity. At the top of her list: Planned Parenthood. She talks to Abigail Pesta.

Karen Handel—a former big shot at Susan G. Komen, the giant, embattled breast-cancer charity—has some unkind words for Planned Parenthood.

She calls the organization “a bunch of schoolyard thugs.” She says Planned Parenthood has become “blatantly partisan.” But perhaps her harshest criticism is reserved for the group's president, Cecile Richards, who she says launched a "vicious mugging" of the charity, ultimately hurting women.

planned-bullyhood-handel-book-cover

Handel is a former vice president of public policy for Komen, the charity that caused an uproar earlier this year when it decided to stop providing an annual grant to Planned Parenthood. Now, her new book offers an insider’s account of that decision—which has upended one of the most powerful cancer-fighting organizations in the world, responsible for raising some $1.9 billion to fight the disease.

On the Road

Planned Parenthood Gets Wired

The group's enthusiastic young social-media staffers are touring swing states, going to the party conventions, and spreading the word. Allison Yarrow reports.

A big pink bus—detractors call it “the Pepto bus of death”—is crisscrossing swing states and going from convention to convention, carrying members of Planned Parenthood's pink-shirted young political road team.

planned-parenthood-bus-yarrow-tease

Women are Watching

At a Columbus, Ohio rally in a park named for the town's first doctor, Lincoln Goodale, who treated the poor at no charge, the staffers stand out because of their pink shirts, but also because of their youth—especially compared to the decades-older counter-protesters they call the “antis” who arrive moments after the bus stops. The pink shirts wield iPhones and cameras to capture the speeches—delivered to the crowd of nearly two hundred people, mostly women—by a rape victim, a new mother who was treated at a Planned Parenthood center for a condition that might have prevented her pregnancy and the group's charismatic president, Cecile Richards.

Nearby, in the grass, about a dozen antis gather, including Bryan Kemper, a well-known figure who's been coming out for decades to protest abortion groups, and members of the Abolitionists Society of Ohio. “We are the generation that will abolish abortion. Peacefully,” says Kemper. He and the others—mostly men, along with two women who coincidentally are also wearing pink shirts—hoist posters showing bloody baby limbs and shout at the rally-goers: “Abortion enslaves women!” and “You tear babies limb from limb!” They aren't filming or tweeting constantly the way pink shirts are—their message is directed entirely at the abortion-rights supporters.

Last Stand

Worry at Abortion’s Lone Outposts

A federal judge put a hold on a new law that would drive the state’s last clinic out of business. Why three other states’ sole providers are closely watching the battle.

Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic will remain open for now, while three other U.S. states with just a single clinic look on anxiously.

Abortion Mississippi

Abortion opponents Ron Nederhoed, center, and Ashley Sigrest, right, argue with the Jackson Women's Health Organization's administrator Shannon Brewer, right, over the opponent's trespassing onto the property of Mississippi's only abortion clinic in Jackson, Miss., Monday, July 2, 2012. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP Photo)

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan III temporarily extended his block on a new Mississippi state law that would have shuttered the Jackson Women’s Health Center. The law, which was set to go into effect July 1, mandates that the clinic’s two out-of-state doctors possess permits that local hospitals are refusing to grant them, which not just delegitimizes their practice, but renders it illegal. Jordan deferred his ruling—whether or not he will grant a preliminary injunction, the clinic is seeking to allow it to operate as usual—to an unknown date, but it could come as soon as the next few days, plaintiffs say.

The delay will allow the judge to review the Mississippi Department of Health’s “promulgation of rules” of the law, if it were implemented, according the the Center for Reproductive Rights, a plaintiff in the case. The decision may hinge on whether closing the state’s only clinic forces “undue burden” on Mississippi’s women, which would violate the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. This distinction is critical, particularly for women without financial means, says CRR President Nancy Northrup.

Last Woman Standing

Mississippi’s ‘Abortion Queen’

She’s faced bombings, protests, and legal attacks. Now, as a judge decides the fate of her abortion clinic—the last one in Mississippi—Diane Derzis reflects on her decades of work.

After nearly four decades working in, running, and owning abortion clinics, both her champions and her opponents call her the “abortion queen.” That Diane Derzis, the owner of the state’s last abortion clinic, embraces that moniker is one of the myriad reasons Mississippi’s prolife absolutists want to put her out of business.

Abortion Mississippi

While abortion opponents pray (left), Jackson Women's Health Organization owner Diane Derzis poses at the gate of Mississippi's only abortion clinic in Jackson. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP)

Today they may have their chance. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization has been in court to stop the implementation of a law that would effectively close its doors. The law was temporarily blocked by District Judge Daniel Jordan, a George W. Bush appointee, before it could take effect July 1. And today that same judge will hold a hearing on whether the law should go forward.

While the suit to save her clinic started in June, Derzis has been fighting this kind of opposition since she first went to work at a clinic in 1973, the year Roe v. Wade was decided. The 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision opened the floodgates for states to regulate abortion, leading to the kinds of small-bore but potent restrictions that could lead to her Mississippi clinic’s closing. In 1998 an anti-abortion activist name Eric Rudolph nail-bombed and killed a security guard at the first clinic she owned, New Woman All Woman in Birmingham, Ala., which she had run for a decade. She owns the clinic, which was recently forced out of business by anti-choice efforts Derzis calls “an absolute witch hunt.”) She owns a small Smith & Wesson (“I’ve got a cute little holster for it”) and a couple of Tasers, just in case.

file

The Geography of Abortion Access. View the interactive

Roe v. Wade 40th Anniversary

America’s Abortion Rights: A History

The Daily Beast looks back at the evolution of abortion rights in America.

Personhood USA: Going for the Abortion 'Jugular'

Is an embryo a person? Pro-life organization Personhood USA is pushing to ban abortion through initiatives that make it illegal to kill an embyro—and gaining momemtum around the country. Newsweek & The Daily Beast's Abigail Pesta discusses her profile of the organization.