Chipping away at fundamental rights

Republicans must stop passing legislation that restricts access to abortion

In the past few months, an epidemic of anti-abortion legislation has swept over our country. The recent passage of House Resolution 3, or the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Bill, is but one example among almost a thousand measures working their way through state legislatures. While the bill is vanishingly unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, its language reflects frightening sentiments on the part of House Republicans (and the 16 Democrats who joined them). One of the most shocking effects of the bill’s becoming law would be necessary “rape audits,” conducted by the IRS, to determine if persons who receive federal funding for abortion in case of rape were lying about being raped. As Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) put it, “if you get raped, you better keep a receipt.”

Although all of these measures are extreme by nature, a few of them border on the truly psychopathic. Consider Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta), who recently proposed a bill that would not only criminalize induced abortion, but would make all those who suffer miscarriages guilty of “prenatal murder” until proven innocent. The penalty for those found guilty: capital punishment or life in prison. Further, a proposed South Dakota law, which many critics say invites extremists to murder abortion providers, expands the definition of “justifiable homicide” to include those perpetrated in the defense of an “unborn child.”

Some of the other measures, several of which have already passed, include:

• The prohibition of federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood in Indiana. While the national attempt to defund Planned Parenthood may have failed, Republican Governor Mitch Daniels has pledged to sign a bill that will cut $3 million in funding from the organization (even though federal funding for abortion services was already banned per the Hyde Amendment).

• A Texas bill, to be signed by Gov. Rick Perry, that would require abortion-seekers to have an ultrasound performed so they could see images of the fetus and listen to its heartbeat or, the patient having declined that, would have to be lectured by their doctors on fetal development.

• A law shutting down 17 of Virginia’s 21 abortion clinics.

• An expansion of the abortion waiting period in South Dakota from 24 to 72 hours.

• An Ohio bill that would ban abortion once the fetus’s heartbeat could be detected, which can occur as early as 6 weeks into pregnancy.

Most, if not all, of these measures are in direct opposition to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which prohibited restrictions on abortion before fetal viability. However, many pro-abortion activists are wary of bringing a case to the courts, fearing the conservative-leaning Supreme Court would issue a devastating anti-abortion decision. In the meantime, anti-abortion leaders are content with the way things are currently going. As Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition put it, “We don’t have to see a Roe v. Wade overturned in the Supreme Court to end it. … We want to. But if we chip away and chip away, we’ll find out that Roe really has no impact. And that’s what we are doing.”

And because Americans place abortion lower in importance than a slew of other issues, Republicans are getting away with taking away the bodily autonomy of every person with a uterus while the rest of the country is distracted with job creation, the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public debt, etc. In a most clever ruse, Republicans have declared the Obama administration (and Democrats generally) impotent when it comes to dealing with fiscal policy, war, and terrorism, then offered ridiculous budget proposals like Rep. Paul Ryan’s catastrophe and proposed inconsequential cuts to programs like Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio, posing them as tough, common-sense solutions to the budget crisis. In the meantime, Democrats are frantically trying to prove their monetary mettle while anti-abortion legislation slips under public radar.

What is more important, Republicans, the de facto abolition of a legally protected and all-too-necessary medical procedure at the expense of the well-being of uterus owners (especially and notably those with low income), or actually facing the impending crises of our time? Republicans claim to represent the true interests of the American people, yet they prefer to trifle in the affairs of people whose experiences are typically nothing like their own (those of rich, older, white men who will never become pregnant) rather than deal with the issues that most Americans rank highest on their list of priorities.