California’s Pro-Choice Bill, Teen Births, and Anti-Choicers at It Again in New Mexico


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Transcript

On this episode of Reality Cast, Dr. Tracy Weitz will be on to talk about good news coming out of California. New Mexico’s got a clinic that does third trimester abortions, and the anti-choicers are turning up the terror on it. But there’s more good news in the second segment about teen birth rates.

Rape culture continues to be a major problem on campuses. A Canadian university is embroiled in controversy after some freshmen were caught chanting this.

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To be clear, I don’t think this kind of thing is going to turn non-rapists into rapists or anything asinine like that. However, there’s a good body of evidence to show that this sort of thing gives men who are inclined to rape the sense that they’re being supported and that their desires are not that big a deal. And so yes, it does contribute to more rape.

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This Friday, a long-awaited documentary about the four remaining doctors in the country who can do third trimester abortions is coming out. It’s called “After Tiller,” because the starting point of the film is the tremendous loss of Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas after a frequent anti-choice protester named Scott Roeder, who was fed information on Tiller’s legal battles and movements by Operation Rescue, followed Dr. Tiller into church and shot him through the head. The documentary follows the four surviving doctors in and out of work, showing why they do what they do and how different their work is from how it’s portrayed by anti-choicers. It was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a very hard documentary to watch, because it really drives home how little regard for human life and well-being that anti-choice extremists really have, no matter how much they call themselves “pro-life.”

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I saw the movie in a preview screening and can tell you right now it’s an incredibly important movie that everyone should see, but you need to bring an entire box of tissues. Unless your heart has been hardened by anti-choice rhetoric painting women who seek abortion as monsters or bimbos, it’s really difficult listening to them tell their stories. In most cases, it was a wanted pregnancy. A lot of families were already decorating the nursery. Then the diagnosis came. Babies who would live for a few days and die painfully. Babies who would be born unable to move, ever. Fetal anomalies that would cause nothing but heartbreak, pain, financial ruin, and then death. And only four doctors in the country can help them. These doctors do a lot of earlier abortions, of course, so it’s not all pain and misery. But they have to take on an entire nation’s worth of women whose dreams are dashed and whose only chance of ever seeing their baby will be after it’s dead. And on top of that all, they have to deal with the ever-present harassment and fear of being murdered by some anti-choice nut who prefers to believe a bunch of misogynist myths about late term abortion rather than the truth.

Two of these doctors, Dr. Shelley Sella and Dr. Susan Robinson, opened a clinic in New Mexico together after Dr. Tiller was murdered. They are featured along Dr. Warren Hern and Dr. Leroy Carhart in the movie, and their practice feels really warm like an inviting place that gives great comfort to families making tough decisions. Here’s some clips of them in their practice from the trailer.

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Unfortunately, it seems that their clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico is becoming the new focal point for anti-choice extremists who are looking for something else to do now that Dr. Tiller is dead. The picketing, the outrageous tactics, the demonizing: It’s all starting up again. And people in New Mexico are not exactly happy about it.

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Because there’s no low that they won’t go to, anti-choicers have started to picket a Holocaust museum in Albuquerque, demanding that they put up an anti-abortion display full of ignorant, misogynist propaganda. Obviously, the museum is not interested, but it goes to show how viciously dehumanizing the anti-abortion movement really is. They’re equating a very small number of women who need to get third trimester abortions, usually because of fetal anomalies, with a systematic attempt to murder every Jewish person, an attempt that wiped out two-thirds of the Jewish population on the continent of Europe. That utter lack of respect and understanding of reality is endemic to the anti-choice movement, and now New Mexico is having to suffer through it.

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Insert interview

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While so much is grim when it comes to news about sexual and reproductive health, for the young in America, things are looking up. Last week, I reported on how schools have quietly started to move back towards comprehensive sex education, in no small part because there was a small uptick in teen births in the heyday of abstinence-only that stood out from an overall decline in the birth rate in the past couple of decades. Now there’s a new report out from the CDC showing that contraception really does work. The teen birth rate is at an all-time low, not because teens aren’t having sex, but because they are using contraception. And when I mean an all-time low, I mean of all time.

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And we are only saying 73 years because that’s only how long the government has data on this. The blunt truth of the matter is that this may be the lowest teen birth rate in American history, in no small part because the very concept of the teenager isn’t much older than this data set. To be clear, that’s not a bad thing. Inventing the concept of the teenager was a very good idea, because it allows us to frame useful ideas like waiting until you’re more mature and stable to start having babies. But the point stands:  2012 was the best year yet since the struggle even began to start making it easier and more obtainable for women to avoid pregnancy in their teen years.

What’s amazing is how quickly the rate has plummeted.

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There’s a lot of reasons for this, but I have a pet theory for at least a huge chunk of it. Call it the Bristol Palin theory. For years, conservatives were trying to muddy the waters and claim that contraception-negative messages and telling kids to abstain until marriage were the best prevention for teen pregnancy. Contraception education was even suggested to be a bad thing for kids, on the grounds that it supposedly causes them to have sex. Then Bristol Palin, who was the living embodiment of a kid raised in the kind of Bible-happy abstinence-only culture that conservatives recommend, came into the national spotlight, pregnant with her son as a high school student. The Republicans tried to spin that every which way, but at the end of the day, there was no avoiding it. All the statistics in the world cannot do what a single girl who got pregnant after getting an abstinence-only message could do to drive home the point.

Eboni Williams of the Young Turks had a similar sense.

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Her instinct was right. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 77 percent of viewers of the show came away feeling like they learned how hard parenting as a teen was and were more inclined to avoid it. Cenk and Eboni went back and forth, wondering if the fame that the girls on the show had might incline kids the other way, but ultimately decided that the show was really effective in driving home the message.

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The traditional narrative is to suggest that the huge amount of sex on TV and in music is bad for teens and encourages teen pregnancy, but in fact, if it’s doing anything, it might be the opposite. The “MTV narrative,” as it were, is to sell this kind of sexy and fun youth lifestyle that doesn’t have a lot of room for having babies in it. The sex-is-good-but-teen-pregnancy-is-bad narrative sets kids up to look to contraception as a way to achieve their goals. That it so happens to be the best way to achieve the goals that adults have for them is a very good thing indeed.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, acknowledging people’s existence is evil edition. Or that’s the claim of one Linda Harvey, of Mission America, who got a little overheated in denouncing the idea of sex education acknowledging the existence and needs of LGBT Americans.

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It’s straight from the school of thought that holds that if you pretend people don’t exist that will somehow make them go away. Hasn’t worked yet, but I guess she’ll keep trying.

Follow Amanda Marcotte on Twitter: @amandamarcotte