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July 20, 2007
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NOW Transcript - Show 329
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Transcript - July 20, 2007


The issue of abortion is the proverbial third rail in American politics, and already every Presidential candidate has carefully staked his or her ground on the issue. It might all sound familiar, but behind the scenes, there's a big change underway. The Pro-Life camp has been rolling out a new argument that is gaining more and more traction with lawmakers and even with the Supreme Court—some activists say, 'This is the strategy that will succeed in making abortion illegal.'

Senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa and producer Kathleen Hughes have out report.


HINOJOSA: Remember when the anti-Abortion movement was all about the unborn child?

The bloody fetuses...the accusatory language...the religious symbols?

WOMAN: Don't patronize a place that kills babies! They really kill children!

HINOJOSA: You may not have noticed, but the movement has been repackaged:

WOMAN ON WEBSITE: and the fact that abortion hurts women.

HINOJOSA: Go to most pro-life websites and you'll see how the focus has shifted from the fetus to the women...women saying abortion hurt them.

WOMEN ON VIDEO: I tried to commit suicide. I couldn't bond with the child I later had. I tried to numb my pain with alcohol. I struggled with depression. I had trouble.

HINOJOSA: They are convinced the procedure led to serious psychological consequences. In order to prevent more women from suffering, they say abortion must be made illegal.

WOMEN ON VIDEO: That's why we are silent no more. We found help and healing and you can too. Call or go online today.

HINOJOSA: It's a seismic shift in strategy...a carefully calculated effort to convince the public that abortion irreparably harms women. The Pro-Life movement has invested millions in a multifaceted strategy that embraces the language of the Women's Right's Movement, promotes questionable scientific evidence and seeks to portray women as victims.

PARKER: If you really go to an abortion clinic and look in the recovery rooms, many, many, many of the women are crying at that time. What other medical procedure do people cry about?

HINOJOSA: Meet attorney Allan Parker, one of the new movement's key legal strategists...he's president of an organization that calls itself the Justice Foundation.

PARKER: Many, many, many women come to regret deeply. And have various kinds of reactions psychologically. Suicidal thoughts, crying spells, anger, promiscuity, drug abuse, many of those types of symptoms.

PARKER ON VIDEO: We're glad you're with us this week. You're going to hear from Rhonda and Denise from the secret places of their heart. You're going to hear some of the most amazing testimonies about what abortion does to women.

HINOJOSA: Parker's group makes films which air on Christian Television. They present stories from women who say they've been harmed by abortion.

WOMAN1: And it led to time in a mental hospital and it took over two years to recover.

WOMAN2: I thought the only way to escape the pain was to take my life. It was like I was caught in this death trap.

HINOJOSA: Viewers are encouraged to send in their own stories—but not in the usual manner...Parker is asking for signed affidavits—to help in the legal fight to overturn abortion rights in America.

You can click on the Justice Foundation's website and pull up a blank one with instructions on how to fill it out. So far Parker and his team have collected nearly 2000 signed and notarized affidavits.

PARKER: And we believe those affidavits are like gold. They've been refined in the fire of a woman's heart.

You all presented the 2000 affidavits.

WOMAN: We presented the affidavits. That's correct.

HINOJOSA: Parker is using them to build court cases challenging existing state and federal abortion laws. And his brief has made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The shift in strategy is working.

It was Justice Anthony Kennedy who cited Parker last April. Writing in favor of restricting late term abortions Kennedy echoed Parker's argument: 'It seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained...severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.'

PARKER: We were gratified that Justice Kennedy cited our brief. And he cited the two pages where the woman's avi—affidavits were given to the court. So, what they were really citing was the testimony of women themselves. I'm pleased with the decision. Because the Supreme Court is finally listening to women.

HINOJOSA: But some women were shocked. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said the majority opinion turned back the clock on women's rights, by depriving women of "The right to make an autonomous choice."

Ginsberg charged that the ruling relied on "Ancient notions" about women and their ability to make decisions for themselves.

DR. STOTLAND: It's—it's very sad to see the well being of women used as a tool to decrease the well being of women.

HINOJOSA: Dr. Nada Stotland is president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association...we caught up with her while she was visiting her pregnant daughter in New York City.

DR. STOTLAND: It was a great shock to me to find out that—legislators and judges could write down anything they wanted whether it had a scientific basis or not. And, that Supreme Court opinion did not have a scientific basis.

HINOJOSA: Every year in the United States about 1.3 million women terminate their pregnancies. And while it's often a wrenching decision, most studies show that the vast majority of women suffer no long term negative mental health affects.

DR. STOTLAND: There is no such official psychiatric diagnosis despite attempts to produce what looks like evidence

HINOJOSA: In fact both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association—two giant mainstream scientific institutions—say there is no causal link: "Abortion in and of itself, is not associated with negative mental health consequences."

REARDON: It's in God's design that the woman and the child's best interests are intertwined.

HINOJOSA: But this man, David Reardon, says mainstream science is wrong.

He is the author of seven books on abortion. In 1996 he wrote, "Making Abortion Rare," often called the playbook for the pro-life movement's shift in focus.

On this Catholic Broadcasting series, also titled "Making Abortion Rare" Reardon outlines the strategy.

REARDON: I've often said that it's not pro-lifers who are going to end abortion, it's going to be the women who've had abortions who are going to bring an end to abortion. So our job is to be the platform, uh, for building up and giving these women voice because they're the ones who are going to change the whole cultural attitude where abortion will be unthinkable.

HINOJOSA: Reardon, who operates a research foundation called the Elliot Institute also calls himself a scientist. With a PhD from and unaccredited online institution he's turned out dozens of studies that supposedly prove abortion is dangerous to women's mental health.

REARDON: A lot of what we do, is to educate the public through documented research about how abortion increases suicide rates, how it's associated with depression.

HINOJOSA: One of Reardon's more spectacular assertions appears on his website. It speculates that it was something called post abortion stress that caused Lorena Bobbit, the woman who became a tabloid television sensation - to cut off her husband's penis. "By understanding how her abortion traumatized Lorena," Reardon writes, "we can understand why she mutilated John the way she did."

Reardon has become the pro-life's "go-to-guy" for the scientific backing that abortion harms women. In its brief to the Supreme Court, Allan Parker's Justice Foundation calls Reardon "One of the world's leading experts on the effects of abortion on women."

PARKER: We work with David Reardon of the Elliott Institute. He was one of the two expert witnesses in our case.

He summarized the medical literature for us.

HINOJOSA: Reardon is also the author of "The Devil's Bargain" in which he explains that abortion is a sin, pushed on by women by the Devil. Once a woman chooses an abortion, he writes, "Satan turns on her...he charges her with the crime of an unforgivable murder, a secret shame of which she can never be free."

DR. STOTLAND: Okay, that's an interesting argument. It's not science. So, we have to understand where these people are coming from to begin with.

HINOJOSA: David Reardon has not responded to our many emails and phone calls requesting an interview...however one of his frequent co-authors, Priscilla Coleman, a human development and family studies professor at Ohio's Bowling Green State University came to New York to talk about her research.

HINOJOSA: So you don't have a problem with the fact that David Reardon has a Ph.D. from an unaccredited university?

COLEMAN: It's—I don't have a problem with anything about David really, except for if, when we're working together, there's anything in the writing or the analysis that—that I don't agree with. I mean, I—all we do—we don't have discussions about pro-life issues. All we do is work on a paper together.

HINOJOSA: And you don't feel that your information—

COLEMAN: I know it—

HINOJOSA: —because you're so tied to David Reardon—


HINOJOSA: —is—is—

COLEMAN: —I'm not really tied to David Reardon. I've met him—

HINOJOSA: But you've published more than a dozen—

COLEMAN: Not that many—

HINOJOSA: —articles—

COLEMAN: —with him.

HINOJOSA: Well, actually, let's see. We have them right here.

COLEMAN: I don't think it's that many.

HINOJOSA: —the number of articles—that you have co-authored, and studies. One, two, three—we have 12 right here.

So when you have this level of collaboration with David Reardon—and—and people say, "Look, Priscilla Coleman is tied to the anti-abortion movement, we can't look at her science as being unbiased," you say?

COLEMAN: I handled the data, I analyzed it in a scrupulous way. We encouraged people to reanalyze our data.

And we've used—nationally representative samples, data that's been collected by other people—for other purposes that just happened to have the right variable repro—reproductive history and—various mental health outcomes.

And we're finding that—you know, approximately ten to 20 percent of women suffer severely from abortion.

HINOJOSA: Coleman and Reardon's articles have indeed appeared in peer reviewed journals, but that doesn't impress Nada Stotland.

DR. STOTLAND: This is another part of a deliberate effort. One of the—one of the parts of that effort is to accumulate as though you have more evidence if the stack of papers is higher rather than where are these people—people's papers being published? And, how good and how rigorous was the peer review?

HINOJOSA: This study by Coleman, Reardon and associates for instance appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and concludes that low income women who abort are more likely to need psychiatric care later...and even through the Journal's editors defended the decision to publish the paper - they said it generated a barrage of letters.

Several came from scientists, claiming the study's poor methodology rendered the results less than credible.

So when you, Priscilla Coleman, read the kinds of criticisms that say that your methodology is flawed—

COLEMAN: Actually, they don't usually talk about my methodology. They usually talk about—my co-authors who have been involved in—some of them have been involved in the pro-life movement. And so it's—it's usually not specifics about our studies that they're criticizing.

HINOJOSA: In emails, two prominent independent scientists, on a panel that is reviewing the scientific literature for the American Psychological Association told us the studies have "inadequate or inappropriate" controls and don't adequately control "for women's mental health prior to the pregnancy and abortion."

DR. STOTLAND: You might have an abortion 'cause you already have a substance abuse problem. Because you're already feeling suicidal about what's going on in your life. Because you have so many responsibilities and not nearly enough money, or time, or energy to fulfill those responsibilities.

You were raped or pressured or pushed. You were abandoned. All these things, okay? You can't compare someone in those circumstances with someone who says, "Oh, I can handle a baby." You know, "I can support a baby. I can love a baby. I can bring a baby into a safe home," et cetera. And then, say, "Oh, well. Let's follow the ones who had the abortions and let's follow the ones who had the babies and see who does better." Who's gonna do better?

All this talk about the good of women is in the service of trying to restrict access to abortion as a medical procedure. And, that's tragic.

ARIAS: There are broken women everywhere...

HINOJOSA: Despite the science, across the country a growing number of Evangelical Christian and Catholic groups are encouraging women to see abortion as the root cause of their problems.

WOMAN IN RED: And my life, when I walked out of that abortion clinic was never the same and I became—

HINOJOSA: They call it, "abortion recovery."

ARIAS: God Bless you. God bless you...

HINOJOSA: Rhonda Arias is on the frontlines of the Abortion Recovery Movement.

ARIAS: We have the largest single abortion ministry in the nation. We process anywhere from 2 to 300 people in a year.

HINOJOSA: Arias is an Evangelical minister.

ARIAS: Father we ask you God for the opportunity Lord to properly grieve our children with you.

HINOJOSA: Last month, Arias invited us to a memorial service near the remote Texas town of Centerville.

ARIAS: Thank you father. Thank you lord! Thank you lord! That when our child died, it went through a tube or was—cut from limb to limb. That he was raised up in heaven, not in 'brokeness' but in wholeness.

HINOJOSA: Arias says these women are grieving for the one, two, or even three children they never had.

ARIAS: Rain down from heavens you righteous-ness, rain down from heavens....

HINOJOSA: By coming to terms with their loss and asking for God's forgiveness Arias says she is helping them to move on, to free themselves from the grip of alcoholism, drug use, depression and other problems.

ARIAS: We turn our mourning into dancing and our tears into joy!

HINOJOSA: But it's not just about making them feel better...the women are also asked to sign affidavits to be used in the larger legal battle.

Until recently Arias was the Texas State Leader for the Justice Foundation's Operation Outcry.

ARIAS: It's a network. We do know each other. We do realize that we're all involved in something that's bigger than ourselves.

HINOJOSA: Arias says her work helping women goes hand in hand with the legal fight to restrict and someday overturn abortion rights.

ARIAS: Well, mainly wherever there's been legislation to—to—regulate abortion then I've brought expert witness to the legislative process because of my work.

HINOJOSA: Last April when nine abortion bills were pending before the Texas State Legislature Rhonda Arias and the Justice Foundation were invited to testify.

ARIAS: Drug problem. For ten years in my life I thought I had a drug problem but my real problem was my abortion.

HINOJOSA: They brought along 22 women willing to tell the lawmakers how abortion harmed them.

HINOJOSA: The hearing stretched on for nearly 11 hours.

FELKER JONES: I think what's not represented in that room are the millions upon millions upon millions of American women who don't regret their choice or maybe they have distress about their choice but they're not actively trying to take that choice away from other families.

HINOJOSA: Laurie Felker Jones is the lobbyist for the Texas chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League.

We were inside the Texas House of Representatives during the final hours of this year's session.

Felker Jones was there trying to convince representatives to vote against a bill that was designed to require a woman to view an ultrasound of her fetus before her abortion, regardless of whether she wanted to or not.

SEN. PATRICK: Because when you see—even at ten or 11 weeks—I mean, you can see there's a baby there.

HINOJOSA: State Senator Dan Patrick who drafted the Senate's version of the Bill, says a woman has the "Right to Know" what's inside her uterus.

SEN. PATRICK: I just want to woman to see the ultrasound. Because I believe on the first end, we're protecting women's health and the—and the results of that would be saving babies lives.

FELKER JONES: We have until midnight tonight to fight back these—divisive and extreme bills.

HINOJOSA: Felker Jones has been working closely with Representative Jessica Farrar, a Democrat from Houston, who's been on the floor horse trading - trying to keep the bill from coming to vote.

REP. FARRAR: I'm hoping that uh, that political zealots will not prevail tonight. And so uh, right now we're just hoping for—that the—the clock runs out. We've got another five hours 'till midnight.

HINOJOSA: Farrar says requiring ultrasound technology is expensive and medically unnecessary.

REP. FARRAR: The sole purpose is to show her pictures of the fetus so that she will feel, uh, guilty and—and she will be coerced into—out—what is already a very difficult and very painful decision. And in no way do they regard the best interest of women's health.

HINOJOSA: But women's health language is exactly the language Senator Patrick uses to frame his bill.

SEN. PATRICK: My bill passed the Senate Health Committee. Four Democrats helped me pass it.

SEN. PATRICK: Because for a Democrat—and I respect people's views—but for the Democrats, it's a tough issue when you phrase this as a—women's health because how can you vote against women's health?

HINOJOSA: The ultrasound bill passed in the Senate, but not the House. The clock ran out and it died.

REP. FARRAR: (APPLAUSE) Okay, so that was a little bit down.

HINOJOSA: They know it's only a temporary victory.

FELKER JONES: No, it's great. It's great.

REP. FARRAR: So—so we're done.


REP. FARRAR: For now. You see how this is. Every session, we're never safe.


REP. FARRAR: We have to keep coming back and doing this over and over and over.

HINOJOSA: And it's not just in Texas...across the country protecting women from abortion's harm has become the mantra of anti-abortion lawmakers. Ultrasound bills are pending in 14 other states.

Already in 8 states, including Texas, mandating that doctor's performing abortions must warn women about possible psychological harm.

In Texas the warning goes like this: "Some women have reported serious psychological effects...including depression, grief, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, regret, suicidal thoughts..."

DR. STOTLAND: To—require that doctors give people this misinformation—is a—essentially out of whole cloth. And, it—it violates—I think what people rely on without even thinking about it that our government will protect us from misinformation.

HINOJOSA: It's that misinformation which Democratic Representative Henry Waxman criticized last year in an investigation of the nation's crisis pregnancy centers. According to the report, many of these predominantly Christian-operated clinics—which attempt to talk pregnant women out of abortion - "Grossly misrepresented the medical risks," by, among other things, saying abortion could "lead to suicide and post-abortion stress disorder."

Over the last six years, the federal government has given more than 30 million in tax dollars to hundreds of crisis pregnancy centers around the country.

So when the Committee on Government Reform says that 87 percent provided false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion, you say—?

COLEMAN: I say they didn't provide misleading information from what I can tell. The—what I've read about what they are telling women, it's completely accurate. It's based on the science. The science that the APA won't acknowledge.

WOMAN: Lord we love you and worship you, thank you Lord...

HINOJOSA: And in abortion recovery groups it's not the science that's under discussion.

There seems to be no shortage of women tracing their mental anguish back to their abortions...they embody this campaign that says if some women suffer, no women should suffer. So abortion must end. It's gaining momentum in courthouses and legislatures across the land.

WOMEN: (SINGING) Light of the world you came down out of darkness.

HINOJOSA: It's a campaign says attorney Allan Parker, that's only just begun.

PARKER: We're gonna continue to collect the evidence. We're gonna continue to listen to women. And we're gonna continue help women get their voices heard in this society. And we're gonna continue to present the evidence to legislatures and courts that are considering what to do about this abortion issue.

BRANCACCIO: For more on all this follow the links we've put up on our website at PBS.ORG.

And next week on NOW: How secure is your right to vote? We look into evidence that the Republican Party, in some key Presidential elections states, set out to challenge voters. Including those of students, the military and minorities.

MAN: We've had mass challenges in America. People are losing their vote. And I don't see that changing at all for 2008 unless something's done about it.

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

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