CounterSpin interview with Jodi Jacobson on Colorado Spring massacre
Janine Jackson interviewed Jodi Jacobson about the Colorado Springs massacre for the December 4 CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
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Janine Jackson: It’s a crime story, a culture war story, a debate about what gets called terrorism and about presidential candidates’ ability to rise or sink to an occasion. But for all the worthy stories being aired, the killing of three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic by a man angry about “baby parts” hasn’t quite become a story about women and our right to decide whether to have a child.
With Colorado only the latest in a long, long history of attacks, how do we move the conversation off the dime of whether reproductive justice advocates have a right to be upset toward what must be done to secure an atmosphere in which women can actually exercise their full human and legal rights? Jodi Jacobson is editor-in-chief at RH Reality Check. She joins us now by phone from Maryland. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Jodi Jacobson.
Jacobson: Thank you for having me.
Jackson: Of criteria by which journalism can be judged, I think anyone would say that providing adequate context for events would be preeminent. So it would seem odd not to locate the November 27 murders by Robert Lewis Dear within a context of months of serious contentions from serious people, like Carly Fiorina, like Ted Cruz, that Planned Parenthood “barters and sells the body parts of unborn children,” as Cruz has said, or that, as Mike Huckabee said, it’s a “kill-for-hire organization.” I mean, it says something about media’s approach to abortion that we have to argue that that’s an appropriate context within which to understand these murders.
Jacobson: Absolutely. Look, we’re in a period right now where we’re sort of in what I call a battle of fundamentalisms. Yesterday, we saw many people killed and wounded by a couple of people who we don’t know their motivation or really where they were coming from or what they were doing. But we do know that they took violence into their own hands for what may well end up being a personal issue.
Jackson: This is San Bernardino.
Jacobson: This is San Bernardino. Last week we saw a man go and attack a Planned Parenthood clinic, again, out of what he thought was his personal responsibility to attack healthcare providers. Where is all of this coming from? The Christian right in this country sees itself as preeminent, and sees itself as creating a Christian law that it wants us all to abide by. Which includes a very strict and regulated role for women, which absolutely does not include access to contraception, birth control, reproductive healthcare or control over our own bodies, including abortion care.
So you’ve got this atmosphere in which people, like a deluded and violently aggressive person, as his past indicates, like Robert Dear, decides it’s OK for him to take matters into his own hands. So I think there is a connection here, whatever we are labeling these different things, there’s a connection here between ideologies that are being spread and giving permission to people to take action, based on their own grievances or perceptions, and take matters into their own hands.
And I’m very concerned about that because, in the aftermath of the Planned Parenthood attacks last week, not only did the Christian right not take any responsibility, we saw several of the people in that community actually egg on perpetrators of violence. Like Erick Erickson, who’s the editor of Red State and is a Fox News contributor, literally said that he’s surprised there aren’t more people doing it. So I think we’re in a really scary time, because we’re a country that is loaded for bear with guns and all sorts of other ammunition and firearms, and we are encouraging people to take matters into their own hands.
Jackson: Well, there is a short term and a longer term historical context here, just in terms of the sequence of events. In the short term, this clearly has some connection to the video by the so-called “Center for Medical Progress” that was released in July. There was actually a traceable effect, wasn’t there, of the release of that video and threats to abortion providers?
Jacobson: Absolutely. For months on end, we’ve seen again members of the Christian right and the anti-choice community, which is increasingly one, using videos that were purposefully created for the purpose of defaming Planned Parenthood. These are heavily edited, deceptive videos that purport to show Planned Parenthood breaking the law when it comes to the donation of fetal tissue.
Now, there has been really bad reporting on this, because you’ve got this false-equivalency reporting, which says, “The videos came out and they blame Planned Parenthood for this. Planned Parenthood has said it’s not true.” Well, let’s be real here; there’s ten congressional committees, and then at least eight, if not ten, state investigations, all of which have found absolutely no wrongdoing, because there’s no wrongdoing to be found.
In fact, governors of several states undertook to take taxpayer money to “investigate Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue research in their state” in states where Planned Parenthood doesn’t do fetal tissue research donations. Talk about the absurdity of using this as a political tool against a woman’s healthcare provider.
It’s just one in a long series of attacks on Planned Parenthood, and what’s happened with these videos is that they were purposefully both created and then edited to make it look like there was wrongdoing, but then they were purposefully leaked out over a period of time as a method of trying to create a longer arc for this story, generate disgust and hatred toward Planned Parenthood, and also leading up to the vote in the Senate and the House to defund Planned Parenthood.
So you’ve got a real strategy here. We already know that at least two, if not more, of the folks on one of the House committees that oversees these things saw these videos well before they were released, and didn’t look into whether they were true or not. So they knew what was coming. We have FOIA requests for the communications around this to find out who knew what when, because it says something that these congresspeople were shown these videos; we don’t know if they saw the unedited versions or the edited versions, we don’t know what was behind it. But here we have collusion between a group that has no credibility to begin with, likely obtained these videos in an illegal manner in the state of California, used false IDs and then infiltrated clinics and meetings and secretly taped people, and then heavily edited the video to make it look like something was going wrong.
Jackson: You point to a real media phenomenon there; even outlets that themselves debunked the CMD video, that stated flat out that it doesn’t show what it purports to show, that people are actively disinforming–even those outlets will now report matter-of-factly on mischaracterizations of the video, because that’s a thing that happened, someone said that, without acknowledging that doing so lends it some legitimacy, by tacitly allowing something that is untrue to be presented as debatable…
Jackson: …reporters are lending it an inappropriate legitimacy that’s volatile, that you might even say is weaponized. They make themselves part of the problem.
Jacobson: Exactly, because what it does is it suggests there’s an open question where no open question exists. You’re not only suggesting there is an open question; you’re taking the word of a heretofore unknown organization, on the board of which is a known right-wing abortion-terror encourager–that would be Troy Newman, who’s the head of Operation Rescue and who has said that he is just A-OK with the execution, in his words, of abortion providers–and you are making them a credible voice on an issue on which they have demonstrated absolutely no credibility. So to me, it’s the height of irresponsible journalism wrapped up in some sort of journalistic integrity flag, and it’s not. There’s no integrity in it.
Jackson: I was going to ask you about Troy Newman; he is a board member of this Center for Medical Progress and president, as you note, of Operation Rescue. That ties this latest video, in a way, to the longer history that we know of clinic attacks, and we’re not talking about–I’ve seen some “A Brief Look Back” items in papers, but we’re not talking about a couple of dozen incidents over the years.
Jacobson: We are talking about, in terms of the violence perpetrated against providers, we are talking about not only a history of violence, but also what the FBI itself has noted is an increasing threat of violence and an increasing trend of violence, meaning that we’re actually seeing increased violence aimed at providers. So you’ve got arsons, you’ve got shootings, you’ve got the anthrax letters being sent, you’ve got intimidation and harassment. Stalking of providers has risen. You’ve got flyers that are made up to look like “Wanted” posters that give the private information of providers and clinic workers. You’ve got all of these kinds of practices of outright intimidation that, while of course they are in some ways protected by the First Amendment, because they are inciting violence–now we know clearly they are inciting violence–I think they have to be looked at from the point of view of what the real intention here is.
In California, for example, there’s a law that enables providers of abortion services and reproductive healthcare to keep completely private all of their personal and other information, and it adds a measure–it’s not a certainty of anything–but it does add a measure of safety for those folks. Whereas in other states, not only does that not exist, in some states they’ve tried to actually make the personal information of providers and clinic workers more available to those who would do them harm. Which, again, I feel like is incitement to violence and intimidation.
And so I find it really troublesome that this is not a fringe group exercise. This is a collusion with legislative and other folks who are in power, who are policymakers, lawmakers, attorneys general, who have it out for reproductive health providers, and have done their best to lay the groundwork for anti-choice terrorism and anti-choice intimidation.
Jackson: The attacks, as we are saying, aren’t new, and neither is some media’s inappropriate search for balance. Ted Koppel introduced a 1993 episode of Nightline on clinic violence by comparing the number of legal abortions with the number of murdered doctors, calling that the “latest casualty count from the battlefront between the pro-life and pro-choice movements.”
Among many other things you might say, that toting up of values completely erases women, of course, and now we get in the present day a sort of “both sides should tone down their rhetoric” line. The New York Times says, “Planned Parenthood has fomented political passions on both the left and the right in Washington.” It seems again for media, it’s a two-sides story, it’s not a human rights story, and it just isn’t framed in that way.
Jacobson: Exactly. That is exactly right.
Jackson: Jessica Valenti, in writing for the Guardian, pointed to a problematic response from many reproductive rights supporters, which has been to say, “Oh, but abortions are only a small fraction of the services Planned Parenthood provides.” Which is true enough, but as Valenti put it, “The attacker wasn’t there because he was angry about pap smears.”
I feel that we are at the point where weak defenses of abortion rights — as Katha Pollitt, very roughly paraphrased, puts it, “We can have it as long as everyone feels terrible about it” — those are virtually non-defenses at this point. How do we move into a positive, proactive position on this?
Jacobson: That is a question that is very heavily and broadly debated in the pro-choice community right now, because there are many of us, myself included, who are not only unapologetic about abortion here, but are unapologetic about their own abortions, and want and try to speak out both personally, to open the space for other people to do so, but also to encourage women and others—the men that have supported them, the families that have supported them — to speak out about their abortions.
Because it is one of the most common procedures that is undertaken in the United States, and it is a human rights issue; it’s also a public health issue. It’s a public health issue, and we are so unused to talking about that, but in countries where access to legal abortion is not available, one of the leading causes of death will inevitably be complications of unsafe abortions. So when I say that, I mean, to be more specific, one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in women between the ages of 18 and 49. So this is a public health issue of tremendous proportion, and we can’t ignore that aspect of it.
It’s both public health and human rights, and we talk about it as though it were only a fight of ideologies, but it’s really — as far as I’m concerned — to be pro-choice is a medically, public health-required approach to healthcare, because if you don’t have access to abortions, women die in higher numbers. And we’ve already got a problem in this country with high rates of maternal mortality, far higher than many other countries on the same level of economic and social development. So the fact that we’re debating things like access to contraception and abortion care just goes to show you how disrespected the public health is as a key issue.
Jackson: Finally, in the wake of the Colorado Springs attacks, we have had a lot of conversations about how these attacks are meant to harass providers, they are meant to threaten women, but the response from providers, it seems, is not the intended effect. Providers have come out and said, we are going forward undaunted. Is that not true?
Jacobson: Some of the larger providers do rely to a greater extent on the services they provide and the reimbursements they get from Medicaid. And there is good reason that they are concerned about those, because there are people who are served by those services, and they deserve to be and need to be served by those services. But when you are trying to deal with congressional representatives and others, and you are trying to work around their concerns, you might downplay things like abortion care and what share of your services is abortion care. In the long run, that is a really bad strategy, because it seems to say, as you noted, “There’s something wrong with this, so we’re not going to talk about it.”
Whereas now we’re seeing more and more providers saying: “I am an abortion provider. I am proud of the work I do. I serve women. This is why I do this.” I think we saw that beautifully done in an op-ed in the New York Times by Dr. Willie Parker, who is a provider of abortion care, who travels extensively every week to make sure that women in certain states can get access to abortion care, who’s very dedicated to being open about the work that he does. Which, let’s face it, puts him at no small risk of some fanatical person potentially attacking him. But the bravery with which he is acting is something that has given a sense of renewed openness from other providers as well.
Jackson: We’ve been speaking with Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check. Find their work online at rhrealitycheck.org. Thank you so much, Jodi Jacobson, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
Jacobson: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.