Suzanne Staggenborg’s book The Pro-Choice Movement: Organization and Activism In the Abortion Conflict quoted early pro-choice leaders and traced the development of the pro-choice movement. One interesting quote comes from the former director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Karen Mulhauser.
In the early 1980s, NARAL, which then had letters that stood for the “National Abortion Rights Action League,” was still deciding on its mission statement. Mulhauser, who was national director at the time, said the following in an interview in 1991:
After the 1980 elections, we had a several day retreat with the board to develop a mission statement … We spent several hours trying to decide whether or not part of our mission should include the phrase “keep abortion safe and legal” or just “keep abortion legal.” There were other groups formed to keep abortion safe, and then we decided to exclude that word from our mission statement. That’s not part of our mission, to keep it safe.(1)
As the statement stands, it is not part of NARAL’s mission to make abortion safe, only to keep it legal. And while since that time, the organization has included “safe and legal” as a mantra, NARAL has lived up to Mulhauser’s statements – it has fought to make abortion legal and available, but never to make it safe.
For example, NARAL opposes common sense regulations that would make abortion safer. It has a whole page dedicated to attacking bills that would allow abortion facilities to be inspected and given the same regulation as other outpatient surgical facilities. Their statement that clinic safety laws (which they call TRAP laws) single out abortion facilities is untrue. In most cases, such laws only compel abortion facilities to meet the same basic health standards as other outpatient surgical facilities.
A bill was passed in Virginia mandating that hallways in abortion clinics be wide enough to allow a gurney to enter an operating room. The purpose of the regulation was so paramedics could reach an injured patient. Yet NARAL lobbied against the law and complained when the law passed, saying, “They were intent on the ultimate goal of restricting safe, legal abortion access in Virginia.”
Such legislation, had it been in place, could possibly have saved the life of abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s victim Karnamaya Mongar, who died of her botched abortion while paramedics tried for thirty minutes to find a way to get her out of Gosnell’s facility and into a waiting ambulance.
In 2010, a spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli explained why a bill should be passed to allow abortion facilities to be inspected, holding them to basic health standards:
The state has long regulated outpatient surgical facilities and personnel to ensure a certain level of protection for patients…There is no reason to hold facilities providing abortion services to any lesser standard for their patients. Even pharmacies, funeral homes, and veterinary clinics are regulated by the state.(2)
Yet NARAL protested, maintaining that abortion facilities did not need to be regulated, even though veterinary clinics were held to higher standards of safety. NARAL was okay with the state not doing inspections and not having basic standards for abortion facilities that were equal to those of veterinary offices. Showing a blatant disregard for women’s health, Tarina Keene of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia explained why they were fighting the bill: “This is just a way to basically implement a political agenda. It’s not about making abortions safer.” (3)
When the Nova Women’s Health Center abortion facility closed, NARAL bemoaned the loss of the clinic, telling the Washington Post that Nova:
was trying to relocate because they couldn’t stay where they were,because of the new regulations. . . . The fact they were forced to move, that’s a testament to the barriers these providers face.
In reality, the abortion facility closed partly due to a lawsuit by its neighbors but also due to the fact that it botched abortions and failed inspection. Its abortionist, Mi Yong Kim, had killed one woman (here are the grisly details) and sent another to the hospital.
There was also an inspection of the facility that found numerous violations, such as the facility’s failure to examine abortion remains to make sure no part of the babies were left behind in their mothers. Leaving fetal or placental tissue behind can cause a dangerous infection for the woman. Here is a summary of deficiencies found at the facility. Besides the patient death and injury at Nova, the facility was fighting a malpractice lawsuit from a patient whose undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy burst, leading to very severe complications.
NARAL was protesting the closure of a facility that had killed and injured women, failed inspection, and was being sued for malpractice. They used the facility’s closure as an attack on clinic regulations, when the clinic was actually a good argument that such regulations were needed.
NARAL Pro-Choice America has lived up to its mission statement to make abortion “legal” but not “safe.”
1. Suzanne Staggenborg The Pro-Choice Movement: Organization and Activism In the Abortion Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) 102
2. Julian Walker “State can more strictly regulate abortion clinics” The Virginian-Pilot August 24, 2010