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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.

FLASHBACK

Newsweek’s Abortion Coverage

Flipping back through our archives shows how the debate has changed—and stayed the same—over the past 40 years. By The Daily Beast.

Roe v. Wade

Readers Share Their Abortion Stories

“Do I wish she and I had changed our minds on the way to the abortion clinic? Probably not. I can't envision a life with her and a child, but who could have envisioned where any of us end up?”

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, we're asking readers to share their personal experiences with abortion. We’ll post them, as submitted, throughout the week. Here are their stories:

Word Play

Call It By Its Name: Abortion

Enough with the euphemisms, it’s time to forthrightly defend the right to an abortion, writes Jessica Arons of the Center for American Progress

Planned Parenthood recently released research indicating that the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” do not really resonate with most people.  That has left many supporters of abortion rights asking what should we use if not the word “choice”?  I welcome this conversation as, too often, the term “choice” has been used as a euphemism for abortion because of the stigma and shame that have built up around the issue. 

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Spauln/Getty

As we approach the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion, I urge people who care about this issue not to shy away from the word “abortion” itself. We should resist the urge to hide behind allusions to “women’s health,” “choice,” and “Roe” when we’re really talking about abortion only. While abortion absolutely should be set within a greater context of women’s health, it should not be buried by it.

Following a year in which female legislators were silenced and sanctioned for daring to say the word “vagina” in a debate about onerous abortion restrictions, when politicians attempted to justify denying abortion to rape survivors, and when too many other assaults on abortion rights occurred to list here, it is imperative that we tell our stories and explain why the right to abortion is fundamental to achieving women’s equality and providing families with the opportunity to thrive.

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.

Four decades after Roe v. Wade, the U.S. has 724 remaining abortion clinics. From the dearth of clinics through the country’s center to the states requiring in-person counseling, see some of the findings from our abortion map.

Forty years ago Tuesday, the Supreme Court ushered in legal abortion for American women when it decided in Roe v. Wade. Today, states—particularly in the South and Midwest—are eroding that right by legislating hundreds of provisions intended to impede access with burdensome obstacles. To understand more fully the complex state of access to abortion services in America, The Daily Beast identified and confirmed the location of the country’s remaining 724 clinics and calculated the distance from every part of the country to its closest clinic. We compiled our list using data available from abortion advocacy groups and anti-abortion-rights sources, and then we called each clinic to verify their information to create as comprehensive a list as possible. We also took care to obscure exact address data. Here is some of what we found:

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The Panhandle-Dakotas Divide

The clearest trend on the map is the dearth of clinics through the center of the country—from northern Texas through Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and North Dakota. Roughly 400,000 women of reproductive age (between 15 and 44) live more than 150 miles from the closest clinic in this region. The county farthest away from an abortion clinic is Divide, N.D. All of these states except Wyoming require 24-hour waiting periods between the time a woman schedules an abortion and the procedure.

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

article

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

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.