Why Fight the War on Women?

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the War on Women. What most people don’t realize is that this “war” isn’t only about abortion. It’s a series of battles over a woman’s right to live her life purposefully. This doesn’t just mean her right to birth control or abortion. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Women are still having to fight for these things and more:

  • access to education
  • jobs, promotions
  • health benefits
  • reasonable rates for life and health insurance
  • maternity leave and other accommodations for child-rearing
  • effective prosecution of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence
  • elected office and other positions of power

Many people think that the War on Women was fought in the ’60s and ’70s and that women won it. They point to female CEOs and other professionals, to the number of women obtaining higher education, to greater attention being paid to women’s health issues and  to greater protections in general under the law. But these advantages are not being given equally to all women.

As long as there is one woman who is treated wrongfully and unequally because of her gender, the war has not been won. And the fact is, there are still millions of women who need things that many of us, privileged as we are, take for granted. Not only that, but women who feel that they have never suffered gender or sexual discrimination are either unusually fortunate or delusional.

One of the most insidious ways to keep women down is socialization. It’s hard to point a finger to the culprit here when the entire society participates in the practices that keep women from fulfilling their full potential. Even women themselves cooperate in their own socialization and often seem proud of it. The woman who drops out of college to get married, the professional who stops working to have children, the mother who praises her daughter for being pretty, but not for her participation in sports—all of these women are shortsightedly dooming themselves and their children to discrimination in the future.

These women protest that they have the right to choose to work part-time or not at all (except for in the home of course), to have as many children as they want and to raise them however they see fit. I’m not saying that they don’t have the right to choose whatever they want to do with their lives. I’m just asking them to think about the long-term effects of their choices.

The War on Women can’t be fought only by the people who already have the advantages some women only dream of. It has to be fought by all women. Each woman has to think purposefully about her life and do whatever it takes to achieve her goals. She has to stop thinking about what everyone else wants her to do and start thinking about what she wants.

Some say that the feminist movement has done nothing but create a society of self-centered and selfish women who think nothing of abandoning husbands and children and who could care less about their families’ fates. There will always be those who think only of themselves (female and male), but the feminist movement didn’t cause that. And that is certainly not its goal.

All that feminism asks is that women think and act responsibly with an eye to the future, both their future and that of their children. Do they really want their daughters (and sons) to be saddled with children they didn’t want and can’t care for? Do they want their daughters to continue to have to bear the brunt of housework and child-raising? Do they want their sons to take women for granted, even to the point of abusing them?

Maybe the War on Women will never be over. Patriarchal attitudes are ingrained in nearly every society. Add to that the resistance people have to change. But humankind’s progress doesn’t depend on staying in the present or even going back to the past. Progress means to go forward. What was “usual and customary” for our ancestors has to be re-examined and reworked in order to serve our future.



Rethinking Abortion

A friend of mine recently told me that she used to be strongly pro-choice but now, because of experiences she’s had in her own life and seeing what other women have gone through, she’s decided that she’s pro-life. She said she’s concerned about the psychological damage to women who have abortions. She also feels many women have abortions for selfish reasons and there are very few good reasons for having one.

To tell the truth, I was surprised at how much I agreed with her. I’ve never felt comfortable about women having abortions just because they don’t want to be inconvenienced or stressed out. I’ve even wondered if there’s ever a good reason to abort a baby other than rape, incest, severe birth defects or the health of the mother. I have four children myself and two grandchildren (with one more on the way) and I know how precious a new life is.

The problem is, the abortion debate forces you to pick sides. You’re made to feel that you have to be pro-life OR pro-choice. You can’t be both. But as I listened to my friend, I realized that I am both.

I believe that abortion should be a last resort. No woman should use abortion just because she was too lazy or irresponsible to use birth control. (However, this belief doesn’t address the issue of what to do when a mistake has been made.)

I also believe that once a fetus is viable (i.e., it can live outside the womb without heroic efforts to keep it alive), it should not be aborted. If you’ve gone eight months with a baby inside you, what’s another month? That child has a right to live; even if you don’t want to be its mother, there is almost always someone who does. Let’s face it: newborn babies are in demand. It’s the older child who is harder to place. So if you don’t think you want to be a mother, don’t “give it a try” for a few years. Make the responsible choice while the baby still has a chance to grow up from birth in a loving home.

When I had my abortion at the age of 19, I was a freshman in college, I didn’t want to marry the father and I was afraid to tell my parents. I was also pretty sure that I couldn’t give the baby up for adoption and I knew my life would be changed irrevocably if I kept him or her. I thought I’d have to drop out of college and depend on my parents even more than I already did (and which I hated). And I didn’t want to have to deal with custody and visitation issues with a man I didn’t want to be with.

Also, this was 1971 and unmarried mothers were not as accepted as they are now.

None of these reasons justified my “killing” my baby, but they added up to a compelling argument at the time. And since the man who’d gotten me pregnant was completely supportive of my getting an abortion, I have to believe that he had similar reasons.

So how did I feel after having the abortion? Was I overwhelmed with guilt and grief? No. I can honestly say that all I felt was relief, especially since I pulled it off without having to tell my parents.

But now that I’m almost 60 and can look back on a long life of mistakes and regrets, I realize that just because something feels right doesn’t mean that it is right. I was a moderately religious person, but I didn’t have a well-developed sense of morals or ethics. I didn’t approach the problem from that perspective at all. I didn’t go to a counselor or a trusted adult. I felt like I got myself into this mess, it was up to me to get myself out.

I have had feelings of guilt and grief over the years, but they’ve never been overwhelming. My main feeling was that the abortion was regrettable, but the right thing for me at the time. But I had some bad moments during each of my subsequent pregnancies, especially once the babies were born. I couldn’t help but think that I would have had another child three years older than my oldest daughter if I hadn’t been so selfish. Who knows what that baby might have been like? Was it the boy I never managed to have later on? He or she would have been forty years old this year. Would I have had other grandchildren? How would he or she have turned out?

Having an abortion puts you in a tricky situation. You can ask God for forgiveness, but you can’t ask your aborted baby to forgive you. Some people get around this by not believing that the fetus was a baby. Technically and medically, the fetus isn’t a baby (that is, it can’t live outside the womb). But is it a life?

One debate surrounding abortion is over whether life begins at fertilization or implantation. Medical science has always favored the latter. You’re not pregnant until implantation occurs and you can’t be carrying a new life until you’re actually pregnant.

People who hold the former view have arbitrarily decided that life begins at fertilization.  Some pro-life advocates are against birth control because they think that the contraception itself causes abortions. But what happens when a fertilized egg passes out of the uterus naturally? Is that an abortion? Carry that a step further: does that mean that even God “murders” babies?

Strong words, I know. But the point I’m trying to make is: Is it ever right to make decisions that only God used to make? If the answer is no, you might as well do away with medical science and research. No more transplants, no more medicines, no more fertility treatments, no more heroic measures. Who are we to decide whether someone should live or die?

The Bible says that God gave man dominion over the earth. You could argue that this doesn’t just mean that he is supposed to tend plants and animals. It could also mean that God gave us jurisdiction over questions of life and death. He gave us the intellect to develop those things that help to extend life. But the flip side is that we’re also allowed to decide when things can or should be prevented from achieving viability, or life.

There are many good reasons for not allowing an embryo to develop into a fetus, or a fetus into a baby. What about when the number of children a family has prevents those children from having a good quality of life? What if the resources and support systems don’t exist to ensure that a child will be raised in a loving environment?

And that’s not even taking into account the health of the pregnant woman. What if she has other children she needs to be there for? Is it right to allow a woman to die just to allow the birth of another motherless child?

There is no consensus about these issues. That means is there is no one position that is more popular than the others. And for that reason, I believe it is against everything this country stands for to allow one group’s opinion to prevail.

Being pro-choice doesn’t mean that women will be forced to have unwanted abortions. But being anti-choice does mean that some women will be forced to have unwanted babies.

Which is right: force or freedom?

For a doctor’s views of when life begins and the abortion debate, go here at “The Moderate Voice.”








Three Anti-Choice Bills in Ohio

This is an email I received yesterday from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio:

Today is a sad day for women in Ohio.

This afternoon, the Ohio House passed three bills that drastically restrict a woman’s access to vital health care options:

House Bill 125, the “Heartbeat Bill,” would ban all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable via ultrasound. This is before most women even know they are pregnant.  There are no exceptions in the bill for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or even the health of the mother.  This would be the strictest abortion law in the country.

House Bill 78 would ban abortion after a pregnancy is viable. There are no exceptions in the bill for rape, incest, mental health complications, or fetal abnormalities.

House Bill 79 would exclude abortion coverage under the new health care reform act. Women would not even be able to use their own money to purchase abortion coverage for themselves.

As if this wasn’t enough, we learned late today that Sen. Kris Jordan will soon introduce a bill to completely defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio.  This attack on women’s preventive health care has already been tried in Indiana and Wisconsin.  Low-income Ohio women will now face losing access to basic health care from Planned Parenthood.

What I totally resent about these bills is that the people who voted for them are not representing my position on abortion, nor the position of a large number of their constituents. But what bothers me even more is that the anti-choice position is ultimately an ideology. It is not a sound medical stance. Women sometimes do need abortions and they should not be penalized for or prevented from obtaining them just because some holier-than-thou, heads-in-the-clouds politicians feel more comfortable with a world that is all black or white. To them, abortion is always wrong and carrying a child to term is always right. No ifs, ands or buts.

Anti-choice activists love to recount anecdotes about women who cavalierly use abortion instead of birth control, who feel nothing but relief when they get one, or who could care less about “killing” a baby. This reminds me of when Ronald Reagan spread the story of a mythical welfare queen who drove a Cadillac and lived high on the hog by taking advantage of the system. Funny, no one could actually find that lucky welfare queen.

I’m not saying that there aren’t selfish reasons for having an abortion. But what do we accomplish when we take away the right of millions of women to have a necessary or recommended abortion just to prevent the few who don’t feel bad about it from having one?

Anti-abortionists are trying to make the whole world see the issue the way that they do. But life doesn’t work like that. And neither does democracy. I should have the right to do anything I choose as long as it doesn’t infringe on another’s right to do what she wants to do. Pro-choicers are not trying to force everyone to have abortions. Anti-choicers should not be trying to force everyone to have babies.

Court Allows Wal-Mart to Get Away with it Again

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court did not find that Wal-Mart routinely discriminates against its female employees. That doesn’t mean that Wal-Mart is innocent. All it means is that the Court refused to hear the case. It seems that the 1.5 million plaintiffs in this class action suit have experiences that are too disparate and don’t show enough commonality to qualify for class action status.

Excuse me? Of course their experiences are disparate: you’re talking about 1.5 million women. And what could be more in common than the fact that they were discriminated against because they were all women?

This is the problem with proving sex discrimination in this country: it happens to women, one at a time, whenever a woman is passed over for a variety of types of promotions: better hours, more hours, positions of greater responsibility, higher pay. But the result is still the same: a woman is denied the opportunities that are routinely offered to men. And she can’t do a damn thing about it.

Because that’s the other thing about sex discrimination: it’s carefully packaged as something else. The discriminators don’t say that all women lack ambition or the requisite managerial skills and personality traits. They don’t say that women don’t work as hard or as long. Instead they pick out one reason and match it to one woman and voilà, it’s not discriminatory policy, it’s the manager’s “informed” opinion. And we all know that every manager is free of sexual bias.

Wal-Mart covers its ass by saying that its policy is equal employment opportunity for men and women, but then allowing its supervisors wide leeway in how they interpret that policy. All a supervisor has to do is show that he had a “valid” reason for promoting a man over a woman and the big wigs at Wal-Mart are satisfied that their non-discriminatory stance is being promoted. They don’t look over their supervisors’ shoulders or second-guess his decisions.

The Supreme Court therefore ruled that since a non-discrimination policy is in place at Wal-Mart, there is no case. Period. Any deviations from that policy are to be handled by Wal-Mart internally. Well, I’m sorry, but I thought the main reason a suit is brought against a company is to get them to do something they aren’t already doing.

The fact that the Court dismissed the complaints of 1.5 million women is an outrage. Does it think these women are delusional? That they all imagined that they were being discriminated against? Surely out of 1.5 million plaintiffs there was enough evidence to warrant hearing the case. Instead, the Justices who voted for dismissal said that there wasn’t enough evidence; only “about 1 [anecdote] for every 12,500 class members.” I’m sure the women could have come up with far more if they’d realized that the Justices were going to consider 120 anecdotes “insignificant.”

The most troubling aspect of this ruling is that it will undoubtedly make it even harder for class action suits to be successful in the future—especially when they’re filed against huge corporations. All the Justices have to say is that the company is too large to hold it responsible for the actions of all its managers.

The women filed a class action suit expressly because it would have been cost-prohibitive for each woman to file a suit against each manager. And why should they when it’s clear that Wal-Mart condones discriminatory practices by its managers by looking the other way?

Maybe we shouldn’t be blaming Wal-Mart for sexual discrimination in the workplace. Maybe it’s actually our society that should be on trial. Because Wal-Mart’s climate exists within a larger system. One in which comments like, “Everyone knows women don’t like to work long hours” are common.

One commenter said that Wal-Mart couldn’t be guilty of sex discrimination because if it was “why would it hire women at all if they’re such poor workers?” Apparently this idiot isn’t acquainted with the practice of hiring people for the “grunt work.” Who better for those positions than women who don’t care about getting ahead anyway?

[Source: New York Times]

Also check out Room for Debate: “A Death Blow for Class Action?


Frozen Reproductive “Products”: Who Has the Right to Use Them?

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on “Reproductive Options,” in which I discussed the increased options women have today for getting pregnant and having babies. In a science fiction future, we may even be able to “grow” babies in artificial wombs. But for now, the weirdest thing I’ve heard about is the possibility of having posthumous offspring. That’s right: having children after you’re dead.

Israel has been in the news lately because of a case—two cases, actually—where the parents of deceased sons have petitioned the courts to allow them to use their sons’ preserved sperm at some point in the future to create their own grandchildren. In a 2009 case, the deceased was a 15-year-old cancer patient who had had his sperm collected and frozen before he underwent cancer treatment. Against the advice of Israel’s Attorney General, the court ruled that the sperm could be turned over to the boy’s parents as part of his estate and that they could then use the sperm as they wished.

In a more recent case, the parents of a 27-year-old man had his sperm extracted when he was in a coma. Their son subsequently died and his parents are awaiting the verdict of the Attorney General as to whether or not they can use his sperm to impregnate a willing female.

Israel leads the world in reproductive technological innovations.

It has the world’s highest IVF rate: According to a 2006 paper prepared for the Knesset, 1,800 treatment cycles are performed each year per million people, compared to 240 in the United States. Its specialists are among the best on earth, and health insurance there covers unlimited IVF [in-vitro fertilization] attempts up to the birth of two live children. Israel was the first country in the world to legalize surrogate-mother agreements.

I’ve read about cases dating back to the 1990s where courts have had to decide what to do with a couple’s frozen embryos in the event of divorce or death. [See guidelines for addressing this issue in your will.] I can also remember the brouhaha when the first test-tube baby was born in 1978. But even then I’m not sure that all the implications were considered. I certainly don’t remember anyone talking about posthumous grandchildren!

One twist to these stories is the position of pro-lifers about what should be done with “left-over” embryos. Although their concern about disposing of unused fertilized eggs is understandable, what’s their solution? Advertise for surrogate mothers to carry all these embryos to term? How would that even be possible when the embryos “belong” to the couple who created them? (There is one other option: adoption of embryos by third parties. See article about this here.)

Would pro-lifers deny a couple the opportunity to use IVF simply because there might be embryos that will be discarded? Or do they propose that a couple be forced to use all the embryos, even in the case of only one pregnancy? Do we really want more Octomoms?

Then there is the issue of abortion, or in the case of multiples, selective reduction. If a couple decides to have the extra embryos destroyed, are they “committing” abortion? And similarly, if a couple has the right to dispose of extra embryos when they’re undergoing IVF, then why isn’t it all right to have an abortion?

It all comes down to the issue of ownership. If you “own” the products you created, then don’t you have the right to do what you want with them?

If pro-lifers are going to be consistent they also have to be against any procedure that results in embryos that aren’t eventually used. But since it would be impossible to enforce that all embryos be used, their only tenable position is to be against all such technology. And somehow I can’t see them being able to stop people from developing or wanting to take advantage of new ways to solve infertility problems.

If This Isn’t a Threat, What Is?

The following appeared in the Feminist Majority Foundation‘s Feminist News for April 21, 2011. If you’d like to receive these news digests as well as lists of feminist jobs, sign up here.

Wichita Judge fails to issue Preliminary Injunction against Anti-Abortion Activist

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten refused to grant an order sought by the Department of Justice against an anti-abortion activist for sending a threatening letter to Dr. Mila Means, the Kansas doctor who plans to offer abortion services in Wichita. Dr. Means has been the target of anti-abortion protests and harassment since she began training to provide abortion services in December.

“We are dismayed by the Judge’s decision,” said Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “However, anti-abortion extremists have been put on notice: every threat against abortion providers will be investigated and challenged,” Spillar continued. “Rigorous prosecution of extremists who are advocating and using violence is the only way to stop this domestic terrorism.”

The Justice Department had accused Angel Dillard of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), a law protecting abortion clinics, and asked that Dillard be prohibited from contacting Means or coming within 250 feet of her home and her office. Dr. Means testified in court that she felt threatened by the letter, and had undertaken numerous security measures in response. Although Judge Marten said that Dillard clearly intended to intimidate Dr. Means, he did not believe the letter constituted a “true threat” prohibited under FACE. [Italics mine.]

Dillard has been associated with anti-abortion groups in Kansas. In an interview with the Associated Press in July 2009, Dillard revealed she had corresponded with Scott Roeder, then in a Wichita jail awaiting trial for the murder of Dr. Tiller. Dillard told AP “With one move, (Roeder) was able…to accomplish what we had not been able to do…So he followed his convictions and I admire that.”

In her letter to Dr. Means, Dillard wrote among other things: “You will be checking under your car everyday – because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.” Later in the letter, Dillard added: “We will not let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it.”

Abortion services have not been available to women in Wichita since Dr. George Tiller’s murder in May 2009. The Feminist Majority Foundation, which conducts the oldest and largest national clinic defense project in the nation, had worked with Dr. Tiller and is assisting Dr. Means and other besieged clinics in some 14 states.

Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation; Associated Press

The following is the text from the April 21st Rachel Maddow Show about this development:

MADDOW:  On February 23rd on this program, we reported on a death threat—a death threat that had been sent to the doctor in south central Kansas who was trying to become the first abortion provider in that part of the country since Dr. George Tiller was murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in 2009.

This death threat said in part, quote, “If Dr. Tiller could speak from hell, he would tell you what a soulless existence you are purposefully considering all in the name of greed.  Thousands of people are already looking into your background, not just in Wichita but from all over the U.S.  They will know your habits and routines.  They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live.

You will be checking under your car every day because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.  We will not let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it.”

After that death threat became public, the federal Department of Justice announced two weeks ago that they have filed a civil complaint against the woman who wrote the threat and sent it to the doctor.  The first step legally was that Justice Department lawyers asked the federal judge for a preliminary order to keep the woman who sent the threat away from the doctor she threatened—to keep a physical distance between them.

The hearing on that request just happened this week.  I‘ll tell you what was decided at the hearing in just one moment.  But one of the amazing things about the radical and violent—or at least pro-violence anti-abortion movement ending up back in court again because of another threat to another doctor is that them being in court has the effect of shining a light on who they are.  And in this specific case, it has shined a light on the connections between these people, this network of people, who commit politically motivated murder or who attempt to do that, or who promote doing that.

It really is a movement.  These folks know each other.  They are not alone.

And here‘s how that looks this week, with this federal court case.  The anti-abortion activist accused of writing the threatening letter is named Angel Dillard.  Ms. Dillard has not denied writing the letter.  Angel Dillard‘s attorney in this hearing was a man named Donald McKinney.  It‘s him on the left outside the courthouse with Angel Dillard yesterday.

Don McKinney participated in the Summer of Mercy protests against Dr.  Tiller in 1991.  Do you remember Kansas‘s radical anti-abortion attorney general Phill Kline?  Phill Kline is currently in the midst of ethics proceedings that could result in his disbarment over the way he pursued charges against Dr. Tiller.  We went to Kansas to cover that earlier this year, you might remember.

As one of Phill Kline‘s final and most controversial acts as attorney general, he hired the same lawyer, Don McKinney, to be a special prosecutor specifically to go after Tiller.  The same doctor who that lawyer had protested against back in the day.

Mr. McKinney, again that‘s him on the left there, Mr. McKinney was controversial not just for having protested against Dr. Tiller at the Summer of Mercy—he was controversial and it was a controversial thing for Phill Kline to make him a special prosecutor because McKinney has hosted as a house guest on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of those protests a member of the Army of God—this man.  Someone who had signed the defensive action statements put out by the Army of God, the statements that demand the murder of abortion providers and declare them morally justified.

You can still see those “Kill a Doctor for Christ” manifestos online in the dark corners of the abortion Internet where all the people who have murdered doctors have tribute pages to them and are celebrated as heroes.  Here‘s one for Paul Hill.

The first time that somebody shot and tried to kill Dr. Tiller in 1993, the assailant was Shelley Shannon.  Shelley Shannon was almost a member of the Army of God.  The Army of God guy we showed you earlier was linked to the lawyer in this current case, he specifically praised Shelley Shannon and her attempt on Dr. Tiller‘s life.  He called her a hero.

Well, Shelley Shannon was in prison for shooting and trying to kill Dr. Tiller.  One of her frequent prison visitors was Scott Roeder.  During the time that Scott Roeder was visiting Shelley Shannon in prison, he too came to think of himself as a member of the Army of God, and it was Scott Roeder, who after stacking (ph) Dr. Tiller and gluing the doors of another clinic shut and after protesting against Dr. Tiller and against abortion for years, and after corresponding frequently with the woman who worked at Operation Rescue in Kansas who had once been convicted of conspiring to bomb a clinic, it was Scott Roeder, Army of God, right—Scott Roeder who finally did what the army of god urges people to do and calls justified.  Scott Roeder in 2009 finally killed Dr. Tiller, shot him to death in Dr. Tiller’s church.

And even though I knew all of that before and I still do occasionally sleep, although it doesn‘t always look like it, here‘s the reason I did not sleep last night—since Scott Roeder has been imprisoned for murdering Dr. Tiller, someone who has contacted him enough to have struck up a jailhouse friendship with him is the author of our death threat, Angel Dillard.

After Dr. Tiller‘s murder, Angel Diller said this to the “Associated Press” about Scott Roeder and what he did.  Quote, “Quite honestly, as soon as I heard about it, I realized that he was able to accomplish what those of us in the pro-life movement had not been able to accomplish—we put millions of man hours in, protested, millions of dollars, attempts at legislation, and we were butting our heads up against the wall.  We were not getting anywhere.

With one move—meaning the murder Roeder was able to accomplish what we had not been able to do.  So, he followed his convictions and I admire that.”

So, while Shelley Shannon is in jail for trying to kill Dr. Tiller, Scott Roeder makes friends with her and ultimately decides she was on to something.  Eventually, he goes on to murder Dr. Tiller himself.  Then, when Scott Roeder is in prison for that, for succeeding in killing Dr.  Tiller, Angel Dillard makes friends with him in jail, and she says she admires what Roeder did in murdering a doctor for providing abortions.

And then she sends a letter to the new doctor who would take Dr.  Tiller‘s place, as south central Kansas‘s next abortion provider.  She sends a letter that directly references Dr. Tiller who has already been killed and tells the new doctor, “someone will put a bomb under your car one day,” and then goes on to say, “We will not let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it.”

So, when lawyers for the Justice Department asked a federal judge in Wichita this week to issue a preliminary order to keep this woman who wrote this threat away from this doctor, this woman who befriended Dr. Tiller‘s murderer and said she admired him for doing it, and then she wrote to the doctor who would replace Dr. Tiller saying there would be explosives under his car someday, the judge said no.  The judge said, and I quote, “I don‘t think this letter constitutes a true threat.”

Joining us now is Kathryn Spillar, with the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Ms. Spillar, thank you very much for joining us.  I appreciate your time.


MADDOW:  I know that you know the facts of this case very well.  Is anything that I said about that strike you as confused or wrong, or did I lay it out in the way that you understand it?

SPILLAR:  I think you laid it out perfectly—perfectly—which is why the judge‘s decision yesterday in this case is so baffling to us.  It was such a clear violation of FACE, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, to have made this threat.  And yet, the judge did not see it as a true threat.

MADDOW:  The woman who wrote this death threat, her attorney argued at the hearing that it wasn‘t directly a threat that Angel Dillard would kill the doctor.  He described it as a warning to the doctor that other people might kill her.  “A,” does that make sense to you, and, “B,” how would something like that be handled under the FACE law, the federal law, that applies here?

SPILLAR:  Well, in fact, she used the word “we.”  We will not tolerate this abomination.  We will do everything feasible to stop you.

So, clearly, she put herself in that camp.  And the way that you evaluate a true threat under FACE is very clear.  Congress laid it out very succinctly.  It is how the threat is perceived by the person who receives the threat.

Is the language clear in the threat?  And, Rachel, you have read parts of the letter.  I think anyone would reasonably understand what was meant by those words—about a bomb under a car, about we know where you live.

The second part of that is the context in which the letter was received or the threat was made.  And clearly, in Wichita, the context is very certain.  Dr. Tiller was murdered less than two years ago, by many—by an individual who this person has been in touch with, at the network of extremists has said that we‘re going to keep Wichita abortion free, and they clearly are willing to use a bullet to do that.

But it‘s interesting.  Under the FACE law, this context is very important, but the Department of Justice doesn‘t even have to prove that this individual has the ability to carry out the threat.  It is simply that the threat was made with the intent of intimidating Dr. Means.  And Dr.  Means was clearly intimidated by this threat.

MADDOW:  This was a preliminary decision by this judge.  We do not know how this judge is going to rule in this case ultimately.  We don‘t know how this case is going to play out.

But, broadly speaking, as somebody who‘s been involved in this field are a long time and studied a lot of the radical edge of this movement, how important do you think it is for the Department of Justice to have brought this case?

SPILLAR:  Oh, it‘s critically important.  The extremists must know that their every action is being scrutinized, and that when the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney believe that a threat has been made or an illegal act has been committed, that they will be prosecuted to the extent of the law.  We‘re very hopeful, obviously, that this decision will ultimately be repealed or that in the further hearings for a permanent injunction, that a permanent injunction will indeed be issued.

There‘s just no question.  Even in the judge‘s mind, he said that Dillard clearly meant to intimidate Dr. Means.

So, we applaud the Department of Justice for taking these cases.  We think that ultimately they will prevail and that indeed these kinds of threes won‘t be tolerated.

What worries us, Rachel, is that in the interim, the extremists will look at this decision and be emboldened by it, and will get even more extreme in some of the threats that they‘re making.  And doctors everywhere across this country already are facing intolerable levels of threats and violence.

So, we do hope that on further hearing, that we‘ll reach a different decision.

MADDOW:  Kathy, to that point, I mentioned this in the introduction, what made me not sleep about this is feeling like I am seeing a pattern here.  It feels like there is a scary pattern here.  And I know that Feminist Majority Foundation does a lot of work studying, as I said, the sort of violent edge of the radical anti-abortion movement.

Is this the pattern that you see among people who are moved ultimately beyond extremism to violent extremism?  That they get in touch with people who have committed violent acts, that they lionize that acts, that they start to think of themselves as part of a movement that promotes violence?

SPILLAR:  There has not been a single murder of a doctor in this country by an individual who was a lone wolf.  In every single case, the person who actually committed the murder has been an active participant in a network of extremists who promote the murder of doctors, who advocate the murder of doctors, who many of them themselves have committed violence.

And the interesting thing too, Rachel, is that many of those who go on to murder start with threats.  Or they start with gluing the locks of clinics, or they start with simple acts of vandalism.  And so, the importance of going immediately and challenging a threat, to interrupt this pattern of ultimately leading to violence is what is so critical about the Department of Justice action.

MADDOW:  Kathryn Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation—thank you very much for helping us to understand this tonight.  I really appreciate it.

SPILLAR:  Thank you.