Anti-abortion legislation continues to proliferate at the state level

Hypocrisy and paternalism surround the pro-life movement

Last spring, I wrote about the worrisome nature of the state-level, Republican-led fusillade of attacks on abortion rights. I am sad to report that the barrage has not relented. If you thought that last year’s legislation was shocking, then fetch the smelling salts because this new batch might just knock you out.

In Arizona, the Senate has passed a bill (20-9) that will protect doctors and other health care providers from “wrongful birth” lawsuits. In effect, this means that doctors can withhold information from — essentially lie to — their pregnant patients about prenatal problems such as a positive test for Tay-Sachs or Down Syndrome. Several other states have similar laws on the books. The intention, according to sponsor State Senator Nancy Barto, is to prevent lawsuits from parents who sue doctors after they find out they gave birth to a disabled child and allege that the child should not have been born. Whether or not you agree with this sentiment, note that the bill could, depending on how the language is interpreted, have much more dire consequences for people experiencing complications like ectopic pregnancy, a condition in which the pregnancy occurs outside the womb and is thus inviable, according to the NIH. Moreover, “the developing cells must be removed to save the mother’s life” in such cases, which occur in 1–2.5 percent of pregnancies. These stark facts do not prevent many pro-lifers, including pro-life physicians, from condemning abortion even in the case of ectopic pregnancy — hence the danger.

The University of Kansas is in danger of losing its obstetrics and gynecology accreditation due to a proposed bill to prevent state employees, including medical residents and professors at UK’s Medical Center, from participating in abortions. Currently, abortion training is offered and can be opted out of for religious or moral reasons. Legislators are also considering levying a sales tax for those seeking abortions, with no exception for sexual assault victims, as the Huffington Post notes. They also will not be able to deduct the cost of the abortion as a health care expense. Other portions of the bill offer similar “wrongful birth” protections as Arizona’s bill and a requirement that doctors inform abortion-seekers that abortion can cause breast cancer. Never mind that the World Health Organization, the US National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and other organizations have concluded that the abortion-breast cancer hypothesis is decidedly false. Kansas is going beyond even Arizona and is considering actually mandating that doctors lie to their patients.

In Mississippi, around 20 bills and constitutional amendments are being debated about this topic. Mississippi, whose citizens rejected 58 percent to 42 percent an amendment to define anything as developed as a human zygote a person, has one of the lowest abortion rates in the country and only one facility where abortions are performed. Currently, doctors must be flown in from out of state to the hospital in Jackson where they take place. Proposed legislation requires pre-abortion ultrasounds, that parental consent for minors be notarized, and that doctors performing abortions in Mississippi be licensed in the state. According to a report from Kaiser Health News and NPR, prominent Mississippi anti-abortion activist Terri Herring has even called for the sole abortion-accommodating hospital to be closed because of its unfortunate aesthetic value — its windows are blacked out to protect the privacy of its patients from the protesters that frequently congregate outside.

Oklahoma senators have approved a bill that requires doctors to inform patients that they have a right to hear the fetal heartbeat before an abortion. According to author Republican Senator Dan Newberry, “[the fetus] can’t say please don’t kill me, it can’t say I want to live,” and thus this is the only way for it to communicate this desire. I was under the illusion that it went without saying that consciousness is a necessary condition for desire, but I suppose I was wrong. According to Reuters, organizers in Oklahoma are also gathering signatures to put a version of Mississippi’s personhood amendment to ballot in November.

Virginia has been the subject of perhaps the greatest controversy with its proposed law that would mandate that some people seeking abortion undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, which is, as many have pointed out, nothing short of rape. A revised bill, which allows patients to opt out of this violation in favor of a less severe one, has been passed and signed by Republican Governor Bob McDonell. Virginia will thus join seven other states which require submitting pregnant women to abdominal ultrasounds before an abortion.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins had this to say in a statement regarding the legislation: “This law is a victory for women and their unborn children. We thank Governor McDonnell and Virginia’s pro-life legislators for their work to ensure that women have all the facts and will no longer be kept in the dark about their pregnancies.” This statement epitomizes the blatant hypocrisy, paternalism, and stupidity of the pro-life movement. This is the movement whose members place the life of an unloving, unthinking, memory-less mass of human cells above the life of a person. This is the movement that consistently denigrates women by proclaiming that a cadre of men are in a better position to make decisions about women’s reproductive health than women themselves. This is the movement whose leaders and mouthpieces have demonstrated their utter ignorance of how even birth control medication works, much less pregnancy and abortion.

Reading the statements of anti-abortion activists, legislators, and commentators, one gets the idea that they think science is some nebulous, unknowable demigod that intermittently spits out nuggets of irrefutable knowledge — knowledge that conveniently always supports their pre-existing beliefs, I might add. “Science has demonstrated” this and “science has proved” that, but never “researchers at Johns Hopkins have produced evidence” of something. One of my favorites reads: “Science has shown that a baby in the mother’s womb is a human being, not a blob of tissue.” That’s right, you may now rest assured, my dear reader, for apparently scientists have conclusively demonstrated that a fetus is most definitely not a “blob.” Epitomizing the cluelessness of its members, the pro-life movement has pushed ultrasound requirements in eight states and less stringent forms in as many as 15 others; meanwhile, it has been demonstrated that viewing an ultrasound does not change the abortion decision of the pregnant person. In some cases, seeing that the fetus is indeed just a “blob” at the stage of development when most abortions take place reinforces the abortion-seekers resolve.

Luckily state-level abortion legislation is not uniformly awful. According to the Sacramento Bee, the California legislature will likely pass a law allowing non-physicians such as midwives, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to perform a certain method of abortion dubbed “aspiration” abortion. This will make California the fifth state to make such allowances, which greatly improve access to safe abortions, especially to rural and low-income areas. But there is still little reason to celebrate. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a record 92 abortion restrictions were passed in 2011. Lacking a major revival of pro-choice activism — not just pro-choice ideals — and a recommitment of the Democratic Party to what was once, I have heard, a major plank of its platform, we could see an even more devastating 2012.

Brad about 12 years ago

It is a share you refer to Down syndrome as "a problem". Truth be told it is very common, and most people who know someone with DS closely will tell you they are far from a problem. Like most parents of a child with DS, I did not know her diagnosis until after birth. ANd like most parents with a child with DS, it has been an amazingly powerful and rewarding experience. Telling people that folks with DS are "problems" or "defects" soils the water of free choice with inaccurate biases.

Michael Veldman about 12 years ago

I regret putting it that way. Hopefully you'll understand that what I meant by "prenatal problem" was that Down syndrome can lead to complications with pregnancy and birth, not to mention that if you know you are going to give birth to a child with Down syndrome you would probably like to know ahead of time so that you can prepare yourself and your child for an easier, more well-informed, and healthier upbringing. While it is certainly the case that people with Down Syndrome can lead fulfilling lives with loving relationships, caring for a child with DS is simply not the same as caring for a child without DS, and rather than have that surprise at birth, it is best for all involved to know ahead of time. I sincerely hope you now understand that I absolutely do not think children with DS are "problems." Once again, I apologize for the way that came off; I was asked by my editors to clarify my point at the last minute and perhaps didn't phrase it as best I could.