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tv   Americas Abortion War - Panorama  BBC News  July 24, 2019 3:30am-4:01am BST

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you are up—to—date on the headlines. now on bbc news — panorama. in america's south, some call it baby killing. we see this as the holocaust of our nation. my body, my choice. alabama has passed a law to ban abortion. other states are following suit. america is going to wake up one day. this is infanticide. women in some states could be forced to have their babies, even if they've been raped. if i'd had the option to terminate my pregnancy, i would have made that choice. across the country, many are outraged. this is not a moral issue. i think a lot of this is about politics and political gain. tonight on panorama, i travel across america and meet people on both extremes of the debate.
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allowing children to be ripped from the mother's womb right up until the moment of birth... you don't have a problem with killing a baby. absolutely not. i have no problem if it's in the mother's uterus. with president trump backing america's religious conservatives, we ask, could women here lose the right to abortion? a curse upon our nation, a curse of violence and bloodshed. the bible says bloodshed catches bloodshed. in the deep south, a profoundly religious part of america, abortion clinics today are under siege. it's only eight o'clock in the morning but they are already at it, the anti—abortionists making as much noise as they can, and the people who run this clinic trying to drown them out with loud music.
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everybody move. the protestors tell women who come here seeking abortions they're committing a sin. the lord says thou shall not kill. the women are escorted in, their identities concealed to shield them from the vitriol. people drive hours to get here, and then you pull up and there are anywhere from five to 50 protesters. it's horrible. it's already, for most women, a tough decision. you hear them crying, screaming, terrorised. we want to help you, come and talk to us. abortion hurts woman. this is one of the last abortion clinics in alabama, a state of about 5 million people.
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good morning. dr yashica robinson goes in through the back door. she kills about 2,000 babies a year. dr robinson doesn't just perform abortions. she also helps mothers through their pregnancies. you are gonna feel my hand touch your thigh. this woman is hearing herfoetus's heartbeat for the first time. in about eight months, dr robinson will deliver her baby. the heart rate looks really good. congratulations. i delivered her twin sister's baby. but now dr robinson is preparing for an abortion. the first of eight she'll perform today.
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dr robinson is regularly harassed and threatened. so, every morning when you walk into work, you have to run the gauntlet? yes, most every morning. and now, it feels like it has picked up. it's a little more hostile. our protestors feel more empowered. they will stand there with signs, all kinds of grotesque things on there like, dr robinson kills black babies. do you ever get scared? i'm always very cautious. i remind my children to be cautious. she has good reason to be afraid. four abortion providers in america have been murdered since the 90s. dr robinson often gets death threats. what motivates you to keep doing yourjob here in alabama when there's so much hostility? there is no part of me that would allow people just being bullies to make me turn my back on doing what i know is right for my patients, and providing care that i know is necessary for them.
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this 22—year—old — we'll call her sandra — is 17 weeks pregnant. she wants to remain anonymous. many consider what she's doing shameful. she's been to two neighbouring states trying to get an abortion. you're from mississippi but you couldn't get an abortion in mississippi. yeah. yeah, because of the number of weeks that i was. this is the one of the only clinics in the deep south that will perform a i7—week abortion. it's going to cost sandra over $1000. she's going in in a few minutes. how are you feeling emotionally right now? it is sad, it really is. but, you know. you've got a try not to think about it. because, you know, it is... it is a part of me. sandra got pregnant after she forgot
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to take her birth control pill. you don't feel like you want a child right now? no, i don't want to bring a child into this world, struggling and working myself to death to feed and care for the child. i can barely take care of myself and i can barely afford to pay rent. looks like you have to go in now. can we get in the back door? go through the front door, 0k. do you have any questions for me before we complete the procedure? no, ma'am. what's about to happen here is at the heart of the controversy. a i7—week foetus is about 12cm long and can kick. sandra is given strong pain relief. the procedure is short but intense. you are going to feel a stick and a burn. sandra's foetus was removed. in america, one in four women will have an abortion
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before the age of a5. in britain, it's one in three. how are you feeling? a little loopy, nice and relaxed. so, thinking about abortion academically is one thing, watching the procedure is quite something different and i think it doesn't really matter what your personal opinion is, it's difficult to watch. i found it really hard to watch. but sandra, on her way home, just felt relief. it's been a weight on my shoulders. feels like it's lifted now. it is already hard to get an abortion in america's south. but soon it could get a lot harder. this may, alabama passed a law
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banning all abortions except where there are serious health risks to the mother or where the child will die. the law's being challenged in court but is due to take effect in november. women's rights are just being, you know, thrown away basically. those people who are protesting — they will not be there at the end of the nine months. whenever you have to care for the child. they're not going to, you know, go and buy the food for it or diapers. dr robinson herself, under the new law, could face a lifetime injail. you would be criminalized if you broke the rules or you could go to jailfor up to 99 years. absolutely. as a physician who provides abortion care, i would be criminalized for helping a woman. and it's notjust alabama. 11 other states have joined the crusade. six of them want to ban abortion
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from the first few weeks of pregnancy, including mississippi. phil bryant is mississippi's governor. you've announced that your goal is to end abortion in mississippi. why? because we think it is murder. we think that it is an innocent life. children are being torn apart in the womb, their skulls are being crushed. this is a horrific way to die. i think america is going to wake up one day. this is infanticide. i think the people of the state of mississippi are very much pro—life. they would like to try to end abortion here. and we'll see what the supreme court says about that at some point in the future. america's supreme court granted women the right to abortion in a landmark 1973 case. roe v wade, as it's known, restricted the right of individual states to ban abortion. the new southern abortion bans ? most under legal dispute ? are a direct challenge to the supreme court ruling.
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the whole idea here is to change the current law. the reason that these bans are being enacted is the states want to force the issue in the supreme court. this is what they want more than anything. they want the court to change the legal standard and give states greater latitude to force women to have babies. back in the early 60s, abortion was illegal in america. in secret, millions of women resorted to back street or home abortions. maralyn mosely is from birmingham, alabama. when she was 20, she got pregnant, but couldn't afford a second child. i performed it with the set of knitting needles. i lay down in the bathtub and continued to work on it until you see blood. women often perforated their uterus and that had caused deaths of women.
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maralyn survived her abortion and, in the 70s, marched for women's rights. she remembers how roe v wade revolutionised the lives of women. roe was a lifesaver for women. they do not have to be concerned about, am i pregnant this month. they can be a doctor or lawyer. they can be anyone they want to become through birth control. it has given them the right to start their family when they want to, on their timetable. conservatives have wanted to overturn the supreme court ruling for decades. now, under president trump, the court has a conservative majority. so, could americans lose their right to abortion?
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this is the prize of the conservative movement. i can tell you that this current court is very, very likely to either seriously diminish or totally eviscerate constitutional protection and that means the question of abortion will return to the states which are, in this day and age, dominated by republican control at the state level. so you believe roe vs wade will be overturned? i do, i do. won't banning abortion lead to more backstreet abortions? well, i hope it will remind them not to get pregnant. there are multiple ways not to get pregnant. we're just asking you to be a little responsible, to take on the individual responsibility of not getting pregnant. we headed hundreds of miles across the deep south towards arkansas. it's not called the
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bible belt for nothing. there is a church on almost every corner here. we reached one of the only abortion clinics in this state. just as in mississippi and alabama, most people here — and most women — oppose abortion. wow, god, you saved me from abortion. saved my soul. and i feel like this is the calling, that you called me to be a voice for the voiceless and give hope to those mothers. you shall love your neighbour as you love yourself. abortion is the exact opposite of this commandment. it is not natural for a mother to kill her own child. the belief amongst many christians here is that life starts at conception, and must be preserved at almost any cost. kandi is a mother of seven. when she was 19, she got pregnant and chose to have an abortion. she's still traumatised
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by what happened at the clinic. that deep spirit within me was like, no, this is not right. and i changed my mind, on the table. i had the nurse telling me that it was too late and i was fighting the nurse. she called for help. two other nurses came in and they held me down while the abortion was completed. nature tells us of how valuable human life is. kandi turned to religion. then she set up an agency to give women considering abortion an alternative. adoption. i took the life of that child. with adoption, you always have hope of knowing how they grow up, what they become, being reconnected with them. there is great hope in adoption.
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14 years ago, kandi met a woman carrying a foetus believed to have major health issues. it was a rape and incest case. did she want to abort? she had a lot of pressure on her about that. but she... from who? well, the family, the world. wanted her to abort? yeah. did you personally persuade her not to have an abortion? we talked a lot about life and foetal development and why adoption... the mother chose to have the baby. kandi adopted her. so this we call the girls' area. my 19—year—old and my 21—year—old and of course, anne marie, this is her room. this is anne marie. how would you describe yourself? being bossy, kind and sweet. you're bossy? laughter
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yes. anne marie was born with an incurable skin disease called epidermolysis bullosa. it leaves raw open wounds on much of her body. she's in constant pain. that little bitty spot is a good indicator what her whole stomach looks like. she could wake up and be fine and within minutes her stomach has you know...not doing well. because of her condition she gets blisters down her throat. if it gets to where she can't eat, she has a nicky, which is like a feeding tube here. anne marie goes to school for a few hours a week. she's already lived longer than anyone predicted. few with her condition reach adulthood. do you think there are ever any circumstances in your opinion in which a woman should have the right to decide
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to have an abortion? i believe it has to be extreme cases. i don't believe that we get to make the decision on who lives and who dies. you have a good time tonight. and even if the mother was raped, as anne marie's was, it makes no difference to kandi. the child is innocent in all of this. having an abortion doesn't take away the rape. in america today the most personal matters have become political. if the supreme court ruling is overturned, the abortion bans in nine states will even apply to women who've been raped and to those whose children would be born with severe disabilities. back in alabama, we met dina zirlott. dina says she was raped when she was 17. it was a boy i knew from school. he followed me into the kitchen and proceeded to push me down, and choke me and raped me.
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for ongoing health reasons, dina didn't find out she was pregnant until eight months later, which meant she couldn't get an abortion. she was also told her child would be severely disabled. there would be no higher function of her brain. she would be born blind and deaf, unable to probably suck a bottle. she would live in pain. dina loved zoe deeply but her child also brought back memories of the rape. i was constantly, constantly being brought back to that trauma on a regular basis. i also grew up with an evangelical father. there was a lot of talk about, you know, women's shame and how your body leads men into certain behaviours. and the shame was just, just crumbled me, it crushed me.
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zoe was in her own agony. her whole body would just lock up and look like to the point where you were afraid to touch her, afraid to move her, because it looked like her bones might break. zoe had a short painful life. zoe died when i was 19 years old. she didn't make it to her second birthday. dina's case is unusual because she was so far along in her pregnancy but she's outraged that rape survivors, even in early pregnancy, may soon lose their right to abortion here. if i'd had the option to terminate my pregnancy, i would have made that choice. with what i went through, there was already such a tremendous loss. to governor bryant, though, abortion is simply murder. you want to ban abortion,
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even in cases where the woman has been raped or the victim of incest. well, two things about that. one, the child had nothing to do with it. an ideal scenario would be to save every child. butjust looking at the issue itself, it's a very difficult thing for a woman to carry her rapist‘s child. sure. it is and it's a very difficult thing for a baby to be dismembered. and now this ethical debate has become a major issue ahead of next year's presidential elections. allowing children to be ripped from the mother's womb right up until the moment of birth, what's that all about? president trump, who won the last elections by a small margin, hopes the conservative christian vote will help him win again. he is using red meat everywhere you turn. that riles up his base.
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it riles up both the evangelical part of the base. it riles up those who are, you know, white nationalists. it riles up people who are anti—abortion. but the majority of americans — around 60% — broadly support the right to abortion. democrats are vying for their votes. there is a well—funded attack, coordinated by right—wing extremists to deny women the right to control their own bodies. standing up for an unequivocally pro—choice agenda. and now the fight‘s getting really ugly. president trump is focusing the debate around the most sensitive issue — abortions in the late stages of pregnancy, which he describes like this. the baby is born, the mother meets with the doctor, and then the mother and the doctor determine if they will execute the baby. i don't think so.
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what he described is not a method of abortion used in america. over 98% of abortions take place before 21 weeks. very late abortions are rare. women who seek them out, often desperate. i believe late—term abortion and later—term abortion are highly misunderstood. it is happening under unthinkable circumstances and it is pregnant people who are being met with choices that are impossible to make. i wanted to hear from someone who carries out abortions in the later stages of pregnancy. there are only four clinics dedicated to this in america. i headed north to meet one of the doctors. so i'm crossing into washington dc now, this is one of the most
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staunchly pro—abortion parts of the country, the polar opposite of alabama. about 70% of people here support abortion, and sometimes it feels like you ought to be crossing the border because this is the other america. dr leroy carhart, in nearby maryland, is one of america's most controversial abortionists. he says he loves hisjob because of the impact he has on people's lives. so these are all letters from your patients? yes. "to the staff and dr carhart, this was one of the hardest times in my life. i didn't even think it was possible to get this abortion because of how far along i was. my baby would have suffered so much because of the birth defects." the law here says a women can only have a late gestation abortion if the child might not survive or if the woman's health is at serious risk.
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so how broadly do you define medical need? it goes into financial health, social health. there's a large, large laundry list, but what's important to me is the woman has to tell me that it's going to destroy her life if she has to carry the baby. anti—abortionists accuse him of carrying out unnecessary late gestation abortions — a charge he vehemently denies. what counts as a medical need, in your view? i mean, if the woman is really stressed about her pregnancy. i think she has to get more to the point of depression and not just stress, and if it's within my confidence of what we could do safely, i would do that. right up until when? 38 weeks, 39 weeks? i don't know. you're not comfortable saying? i'm not going to say. to the foetus it makes no difference whether it's born or not born.
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the baby has no input in this, as far as i'm concerned. but it's interesting that you use the word baby because a lot of abortionists won't use that, they use the word foetus because they don't want to acknowledge that there is a life. i think that it is a baby and i tell her... i use it with the patients. and you don't have a problem with killing a baby? i have no problem if it's in the mother's uterus. dr carhart has been doing this for 30 years and was strikingly matter—of—fact about the medical procedure too. first he gives the foetus, or baby, a lethal injection. you will have injected the foetus right at the beginning? yes. and these are the forceps that grab part of the foetus and crush it and bring it out. right. we interviewed the governor of mississippi. he's talking about how skulls get crushed. yes, remember that this baby has been dead for 48 hours and it's not like we are crushing a living skull.
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yeah. anti—abortionists call dr carhart a killer. he believes they're trying to push women back into the dark ages. their entire goal is to take away a woman's right to determine her pregnancy level and therefore her ability to be employed, to become successful, to become a functioning part of society. they want the woman to stay home barefoot and pregnant. is there a bigger picture here that you and president trump are trying to turn the clock back, bring america back to what you see as a more moral kind of age? i'm not going to preach or talk about morality. people have to make that decision with their faith and with their god. we're just simply saying we think it's wrong to take an innocent life of a child in the womb. you know what to do. dr robinson has carried out 2a
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abortions this week but today it's time to deliver a new life. ok, push, push... just let your legs relax. hello! happy birthday! it's a girl. are you ready to meet your mommy? under the blanket. the abortion bans may be struck down but a woman's right to choose in a large parts of america has not been in this much jeopardy for decades. dr robinson fears for the next generation. there is nothing christian about forcing women to have children against their will, about not respecting their decisions and their autonomy. these are just basic human rights. for all the politics raging around abortion in america, the issue is deeply personalfor kandi.
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anne marie — living proof, in her view, that all life is precious. we have a lot more good days than we do bad days. there are times that she's in pain but she loves life. i would absolutely like to see abortion abolished in america. we see this as the holocaust of our nation. america's changing profoundly under president trump. at stake with abortion, what kind of country this will be. one where women can control their own destiny? or where, in the name of god, life always comes first?
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