Over Memorial Day weekend, at least five different state legislatures across the nation passed restrictions on abortion rights. Alabama tried to ban abortion clinics within 2,000 feet of a public school or campus. West Virginia passed a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. In Nevada, a bill was advanced to require parental notification if a minor requests an abortion. And Texas was busy working on overturning abortion rights for abused or neglected teenagers while also attempting to sneak a bill removing a fetal abnormality exception that allows later term abortions through the legislature.
In Wisconsin, the bill being proposed would penalize any doctor who performs an abortion after 20 weeks. According to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, the bill would levy up to $10,000 in fines and up to 31 and ½ years in jail to doctors who assist women in terminating a pregnancy, regardless of cause - there is no exception for rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities. There is a medical emergency exception if the mother’s life is in “immediate” danger - but anything that falls short of that nebulous standard must be carried to term.
If the right wing thinks that abortion is morally wrong, why not challenge it in the day light? Why rely on meetings conducted on a Sunday during national holiday weekend, complicated riders and strategically excluding opponents from a late night vote to advance legislation?
If one does not look too deeply, the argument advanced by lawmakers seems sound - the bans are justified by the sponsors of some of these bills basing their claims on misinterpreted research that says fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks. The science of pain is complex and deals with our understanding of critical milestones in neurological development - it should not be shortened into an anti-abortion soundbyte.
But the idea of fetal pain is just the latest way the pro-life lobby is trying to reduce access to abortion. The language used on the floor and in the bill stresses elective abortions. The connotation the Republican lawmakers want to give to voters is one of an indecisive floozy causing undue pain to her unborn child. One of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Jesse Kremer, is on record as saying “We will not be allowed to do intentional abortions anymore to rip a child apart after the point that they can feel that pain.”
Leaving aside the strangeness of the word “intentional” (are there accidental abortions?), the language used is designed to horrify and frighten voters into agreement. For people who would term themselves pro-life, this shows a stunning lack of regard for the health of the woman - physical and emotional - now required to carry the pregnancy to term, regardless of the outcome or the child's lack of continued development.
Many courageous women have shared their stories of late-term abortion online. From Potter Syndrome to open neural tube defects to an underformed brain to hydrocephalus to Thanatoporic dysplasia these stories are thick with pain and anguish. For these women, the abortion was the best of terrible options - carrying a dead or dying child for three or more months inside your body to satisfy someone else's political agenda seems like it should be a horror movie plot, not reality. These families are already going through a dark period in their lives - they consulted with their doctors and their families and made a very painful decision. Why would lawmakers be so callous as to complicate this already horrifying time with arbitrary rules designed to increase suffering?
At the same time, the lawmakers also attempt to challenge the shrinking number of doctors willing to even consider such a procedure. Increasing penalties and decreasing clinic access also means women don’t have options in a harrowing time in their lives. Lawmakers are falling all over themselves to pretend that they are acting in the best interest of the potential child, but there is no compassion or sympathy like what you hear in the words of Susan Robinson, one of the last doctors that will do a late term abortion. As she said in an 2013 interview with the Hairpin, she does this difficult, dangerous, and politically charged work because:
…of being able to be with someone at a time of crisis and actually make it better for them. You can’t solve their problems, you can’t erase what this pregnancy and this procedure is going to mean to them, but you can ease their pain and their transition by facilitating their saying goodbye, by being kind to them, by listening, by not interrupting, by not judging them for what they feel they need to do.
By pandering to an increasingly fringe minority, who will take any symbolic victory against abortion and leave the bodies of women in their wake, extremist lawmakers are willing to ignore medical facts and statistics and hurt women to advance their cause.
Interestingly, the voices calling to eliminate abortion in all cases are often the same Republican legislators who vow to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which guarantees medical coverage for all children - including those who would be born with birth defects that would require immense amounts of medical care.
It’s time to stop using abortion as a political football and acknowledge that shady political tactics are not providing more clarity, safety, or options for women and families in need.
Most voters understand that the 20 week abortion bans will do more far more harm than good - what will it take for lawmakers to listen?