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Feminist Majority "Supreme Court in Peril" Chat Series of 2003

saportaVicki Saporta, President & CEO National Abortion Federation (NAF)

Vicki Saporta has headed NAF since May 1995. Serving as chief executive and operating officer, Saporta is the primary spokesperson for the professional association of abortion providers. Under her direction, NAF has grown and taken on significant new leadership roles within the reproductive health and pro-choice communities.

Moderator: Welcome.
Vicki Saporta: Hello, and thank you. The mission of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), the professional association of abortion providers, is to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible for women. We ensure clinic access and security through legislative advocacy, litigation, clinic support and work with law enforcement on the local, state and federal levels. I look forward to answering your questions about how the courts impact the safety of abortion providers and women’s access to abortion care.
posted:6/24/2003 1:55:00 PM CST

Elia: How many abortion providers does NAF work with professionally?
Vicki Saporta: NAF works with 400 facilities that together provide over half the abortions that take place each year in the United States. These include private and non-profit clinics, womens health centers, Planned Parenthood affiliates, doctors offices and hospital-based services. We set the standard for quality abortion care in North America.
posted:6/24/2003 1:59:00 PM CST

Lynn: Is violence still a problem for abortion providers?
Vicki Saporta: Yes, violence is still a very real problem for abortion providers. For over 25 years, NAF has compiled statistics and maintained a comprehensive database on anti-choice violence. There have been 7 murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 167 arsons, 3 kidnappings, 100 butyric acid attacks, 654 anthrax threats, 355 death threats, 455 stalkings, and 686 clinic blockades with 33,830 arrests.

Thankfully, incidents of extreme violence have decreased in recent years due to improved law enforcement response and the visible prosecutions of anti-choice criminals. The enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act has also played an important role, especially in decreasing clinic blockades.

posted:6/24/2003 2:01:00 PM CST

Maya: It seems that most people do not understand the extent of the clinic violence in the US. How can we make this phenomenon public knowledge?
Vicki Saporta: NAF regularly works with the media and public officials to present the reality of the threats and violence our members face on a daily basis. Several states have passed state versions of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act as well as buffer zone legislation. We also brought forward Emily Lyons, the nurse who was severely injured in the Birmingham clinic bombing, to testify in front of Congress.

You could always help highlight this problem with letters to the editor in your local newspapers.
posted:6/24/2003 2:05:00 PM CST

Debra Knox Deiermann: Now that high-profile anti-abortion activists such as convicted killer, James Kopp, bomber Eric Rudolph, and anthrax hoaxer, Clayton Waagner have been captured, what level of clinic protection can we look forward from the office of Attorney General John Ashcroft? Thank you.
Vicki Saporta: Great question, Debra. NAF, along with the Feminist Majority and Planned Parenthood, has worked to ensure appropriate law enforcement response to clinic violence. We have successfully worked with the Department of Justice Task Force on Violence Against Women’s Reproductive Health Care Clinics, which includes the FBI, US Marshals and ATF, on all three of the anti-choice extremist cases you mentioned, particularly the Kopp and Waagner cases. We have found law enforcement to be responsive even under this administration and we will continue to work to ensure their cooperation in preventing future acts of violence and prosecuting anti-choice criminals to the fullest extent of the law.
posted:6/24/2003 2:08:00 PM CST

Lawrence: How can courts protects abortion clinics from violence? Isnt that more the job of the police?
Vicki Saporta: Thanks for your question, Lawrence. The Courts have a tremendous influence in protecting abortion providers. Although the police enforce state and local laws, it became clear in the mid-1990s that additional measures were needed. Clinics were being blockaded, abortion providers were being shot at and killed, and abortion-related violence was escalating. In 1994, Congress enacted the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which made it a federal crime to use force or the threat of force to intimidate persons from obtaining or providing reproductive health care services. FACE also authorizes civil lawsuits to get injunctions against these activities.

The many injunctions that have been sought under FACE come before the federal courts. Right now, the Supreme Court is considering whether to hear the “Nuremberg Files” case, which is about what constitutes an unconstitutional threat under FACE.

posted:6/24/2003 2:12:00 PM CST

Sid: Q1.What are you planning to do about the nuremberg files website that is targeting providers and posting womens picture.
Q.Is NAF involved in next Aprils womens march for choice
Vicki Saporta: Thanks for your questions, Sid. NAF remains concerned about the Nuremberg Files website. We have consistently worked to get individual Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take down the site. Across the board these ISPs removed the content because they found it objectionable. Neal Horsley now has his own server which hosts the site. We hope that the Supreme Court will uphold the 9th Circuit’s decision which found the Nuremberg Files website to be an illegal threat under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act.

NAF believes that the abortion cams website which posts the pictures of women entering and leaving clinics is an invasion of privacy. We are exploring legal options to stop this practice and shut down the site.

As for your second question, NAF will be cosponsoring the March for Choice on April 25, 2004. We are highly supportive of the goals of the March and encourage everyone to sign up to participate at www.marchforchoice.org.

posted:6/24/2003 2:14:00 PM CST

Alex: Many abortion restrictions have been challenged in the courts. Can you give us examples of some key restrictions that have been upheld, and some that have been struck down?
Vicki Saporta: Thanks, Alex. Since the Roe v. Wade decision, federal and state governments have tried to enact restrictions on access to abortion. The Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional a variety of measures restricting access to abortion, including; restrictions that limit public funding to cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, laws requiring that minors have their parent’s consent before obtaining an abortion and laws mandating a waiting period (usually 24 hours) before women can have an abortion.

However, the Supreme Court has also struck down measures that “unduly burden” a woman’s right to choose, such as laws requiring the consent of a spouse or boyfriend before a woman can have an abortion, and broad abortion bans that do not include an exception to protect a woman’s health. It is crucial that judges recognize that such restrictions negatively affect women’s health and that they fall disproportionately on low-income women. Safe and legal abortion must be available to all women, and abortion restrictions jeopardize that right.
posted:6/24/2003 2:18:00 PM CST

Joy: How can we combat the shortage of trained abortion providers and clinics, especially in more rural areas?
Vicki Saporta: NAF has been working to alleviate the shortage of abortion providers for many years. We founded Medical Students for Choice in the early 90s to educate the next generation of physicians about the importance of providing abortion services to women. We also worked with the ACGME on their requirements that all OB/GYN residency programs teach abortion. As a result of some of these efforts, the number of OB/GYN residency programs regularly teaching abortion has increased to 46%. We regularly match NAF member clinics to residency programs to provide sites for residents to be trained in abortion.

We also founded Clinicians for Choice to increase the number of advance practice clinicians knowledgeable about and involved in abortion service delivery. Much more, however, still needs to be done.
posted:6/24/2003 2:23:00 PM CST

Rob Borger: I have a question about the Nuremberg Files case - how can a web site be threatening and illegal?

Vicki Saporta: The “Nuremberg Files” is shorthand for the legal name, which is Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists. The 9th Circuit noted that three murders of abortion providers occurred after “wanted” posters appeared. The Nuremberg Files is an internet version of the “wanted” posters which lists personal information about doctors, and sometimes even information about their families and children. If a doctor is killed, their name is crossed out on the list; if a doctor is wounded their name appears in gray. Abortion providers took the threats seriously, and the FBI agreed, offering protection to physicians and advising them to take security precautions. In 1999, an Oregon jury found that these wanted posters and Internet hit lists targeting abortion providers were threats under FACE. The 9th Circuit upheld the jury verdict and now the American Coalition of Life Activists has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the jury verdict. Recently, the Bush administration submitted a brief to the Supreme Court supporting the 9th Circuit’s decision.
posted:6/24/2003 2:29:00 PM CST

Rece: Is the issue of clinic violence especially partisan, because it involves abortion? If so, is this a problem in raising public concern about clinic violence problems?
Vicki Saporta: Rece, regardless of how people feel about abortion, the vast majority of people in this country do not believe that it is appropriate to use violence to end legal abortion. In a democratic society we cannot allow people to use violence to advance their own personal and political agendas.

NAF works regularly with law enforcement to ensure that they treat clinic violence as criminal activity and understand that it is violence and not protected speech.
posted:6/24/2003 2:34:00 PM CST

Audrey: How have court rulings affected the implementation of FACE?
Vicki Saporta: Thank you for your question, Audrey. Antiabortion extremists have tried to challenge FACE, but every circuit court that has heard a FACE case has upheld it as a valid, narrowly drawn limit on threatening conduct, and the Supreme Court has consistently declined to review these cases, in essence affirming the constitutionality of FACE. However, there are some circuits that have not heard a FACE case, such as the 5th Circuit where Bush has nominated Charles Pickering, a vocal opponent of legal abortion, and the 10th Circuit, where Michael McConnell was confirmed even though he had written that he believed FACE to be unconstitutional. It is imperative that we continue to monitor the judicial selection process to ensure that judges will continue to correctly apply FACE and protect abortion providers and their patients.
posted:6/24/2003 2:38:00 PM CST

Isabella: What ever happened with RU-486? Is it still banned?
Vicki Saporta: The FDA approved RU-486, the abortion pill, in September 2000. NAF has conducted or sponsored educational programs for close to 10,000 health care professionals. Over 75% of our members currently offer this safe, early option to women. For a referral to a quality provider you can call our hotline at 1-800-772-9100. You can also find more information about RU-486 on our website at www.earlyoptions.org.
posted:6/24/2003 2:41:00 PM CST

Patrick: In relation to the Nuremberg Files question - Why would the administration take a Pro-Choice position?
Vicki Saporta: Patrick, the administration filed its brief after the Supreme Court requested its viewpoint. The brief focuses on federal law enforcement concerns, and does not address a woman’s right to choose. It argues that the lower court was correct when it decided that the posters were true threats to doctors physical safety and were not protected speech.
The brief argued that even though the wanted posters contained no explicitly threatening language, they would lead a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety.
The Supreme Court will likely decide in the next few months whether to hear the case.
posted:6/24/2003 2:44:00 PM CST

Erin: How do you think the NOW v Scheidler verdict will affect clinic violence levels?
Vicki Saporta: Erin, we certainly hope it will not lead to an escalation in the levels of clinic violence. Although anti-abortion activists claimed victory in NOW v. Scheidler, this decision did not give anti-choice protesters and extremists the right to commit illegal, violent or criminal activity outside reproductive health care clinics. The Court acknowledged that Joseph Scheidler and other extremists engaged in coercive, illegal activity. Its ruling did not provide any constitutional protection for these actions, it simply meant that they could not be prosecuted under “RICO” statutes. At the time that this lawsuit was initiated, FACE had not yet been enacted. FACE was passed specifically to deal with anti-abortion violence and will continue to be used to help prevent violence and prosecute anti-choice criminal activity.
The key will be to continue to ensure that law enforcement does not allow violence to once again escalate and that the courts continue to recognize the compelling interest in protecting abortion providers and their patients.
posted:6/24/2003 2:48:00 PM CST

Nan: Since abortion has been leagal for 30 years, why do you think access is a problem for women?
Vicki Saporta: Thanks for your question, Nan. There are many reasons access to abortion care is still a problem for women. There is a national shortage of abortion providers -- 87% of all US counties have no identifiable abortion provider. In non-metropolitan areas, the figure rises to 97%. As a result, many women must travel long distances to reach the nearest abortion provider.
State regulations that make getting an abortion more difficult than is medically necessary and state and federal Medicaid restrictions have also contributed to the crisis in abortion access.
NAF has an Access Initiative Project that addresses this escalating problem. The project works with medical residency programs, educational institutions, health care associations, legal experts, and public policy organizations to ensure that qualified clinicians are able to get the training they need to provide safe abortions.
posted:6/24/2003 2:53:00 PM CST

clara: Do you work with any organizations in Europe or across the globe who are encountering the same kinds of problems (conservative anti-choice takeover) ?
Vicki Saporta: NAF is an international organization with members in Canada, Western and Eastern Europe and Australia. We regularly work with them and others who contact us about clinic violence, access and anti-choice policies. We are also training clinicians in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and South Africa in safe, early abortion procedures.
posted:6/24/2003 2:57:00 PM CST

Moderator: Thank you for joining us today. It is important that you now get involved in the fight to protect reproductive freedom. For more information and to get involved visit either the NAF website at http://www.prochoice.org or the Feminist Majority’s Million4Roe campaign site at http://www.million4roe.com. We hope you will join us again for our continuing June chat series, “Supreme Court in Peril.”
Vicki Saporta: Thank you so much for all of your questions. I enjoyed chatting with you. Please feel free to contact NAF or visit our website, www.prochoice.org, if we can be of any further assistance.
posted:6/24/2003 3:00:00 PM CST

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