Inflammatory language regarding abortion and the physicians who provide them is far from new


In Kansas and around the country, many of us had been waiting for two years for the Kansas State Supreme Court to issue its ruling in Hodes & Nauser, MDs v. Schmidt; the case that granted reproductive rights to women in Kansas.

In 2015, anti-choice lawmakers in Kansas introduced Senate Bill 95, which they called the Kansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act.

{mosads}This bill called itself “protection,” but for women, it represented a new restriction that would ban a procedure called dilation and evacuation (D&E). The same ban, against the most common and safest abortion technique in the second trimester, was immediately introduced in Oklahoma and then subsequently in half a dozen other states around the country.

Anti-choice lawmakers had already succeeded in banning another abortion procedure, dilation and extraction (D&X), in part by rebranding it as “partial-birth” abortion. They saw banning D&E as a logical next step and used the word “dismemberment” again in the hope that it would resonate as it had in the movement to ban D&X.

Such is the power of language in the fight to let women make their own choices about their own health and their own bodies. Anti-abortion proponents sought to make the procedures as unpleasant as possible to talk about, bargaining that it would truncate the message of reproductive rights activists.

Inflammatory language regarding abortion and the physicians who provide them is far from new. For years, my boss and mentor, Dr. George Tiller, experienced the horrors of such language. Everyone from politicians to news broadcasters called him appalling names equating his work as “murder” and him as a “murderer.” Dr. Tiller was shot and killed at his church in 2009 by an anti-abortion extremist.

Years earlier, anti-choice extremists descended upon Wichita for a summer of blockading clinics and clogging streets, in what they called the “Summer of Mercy.” By using this label for their often violent action in the summer of 1991, they sought to reframe their protests into something more palatable for the general public.

They needed to frame their actions as heroic and noble, rather than vicious, callous and illegal. This escalating rhetoric over the years created the climate in which Dr. Tiller was killed.

Our president continues to use inflammatory language that incites violence and intolerance. Mr. Trump has increasingly used hostile language to describe second-and third-trimester abortions. Most recently, he outrageously claimed that physicians, with consent from parents, go about “executing” infants after they are born. Such statements are lies and they incite violence.

When it comes to inflammatory rhetoric regarding abortion or politicized language aimed at banning a specific procedure, it is imperative that we counter with truth and accuracy. In the case of the D&E ban, we at Trust Women focused on describing how the ban would actually affect women seeking second-trimester abortions and how it would put people seeking abortions into unhealthy situations.

Most importantly, we trusted that people could handle the information given to them about abortion care, making a point to not shy away from difficult topics and allowing people to arrive at their own, well-informed conclusions.

After our attempts to stop the bill in the legislature, former Governor Sam Brownback signed the bill into law. The rest is history. It was immediately challenged in court. Shawnee County District Court Judge Larry Hendricks found that the Kansas State Constitution protects the right to abortion. Upon appeal, the Kansas Appellate Court upheld his ruling. And now, so has the Kansas State Supreme Court.

Talking forthrightly with constituents, the media and legislators about the effects of outlawing a common, safe and effective procedure in the second trimester helped to quell the exaggerated rhetoric from anti-choice activists and protect the rights of all people under the Kansas State Constitution.

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decisions about their healthcare. Follow her on Twitter @julieburkhart.

Tags Abortion pro-life

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