Behold the Fetus Whisperer: More Anti-Choice Antics With the Federal Heartbeat Ban

Commentary The Politics of Politics

Behold the Fetus Whisperer: More Anti-Choice Antics With the Federal Heartbeat Ban

Imani Gandy

Iowa Rep. Steve King has skills. He knows what fetuses are thinking, and he rhymes like Johnnie Cochran.

Yesterday morning, House Republicans in a congressional committee hearing spent several hours showboating about a bullshit bill that has no chance of becoming law.

The Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017, HR 490, would criminalize abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That usually happens around six weeks, which is long before most people even know that they are pregnant.

Pregnancies are dated from the last menstrual period, so by the time you figured out that you missed your period, you’d already be about 4 weeks pregnant. In such cases, a six-week ban gives a pregnant person a hot two weeks to decide to get an abortion if they want one and then have the procedure. And in states with onerous 72-hour waiting period and counseling requirements, and no clinic for hundreds of miles, that’s a pretty tight window.

Besides, as my colleague Christine Grimaldi reported in January, that’s exactly the point: to ban abortion entirely.

After introducing the bill in January, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) admitted as much: “We think that this bill, properly applied, does eliminate a large, large share of the abortions—90 percent or better of the abortions in America,” he said.

Well, at least he’s honest about it.

Yesterday’s hearing, which was held by the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, was pure theatrics. What else would you call Rep. King, who is not a doctor, narrating a sonogram at a congressional hearing?

Yes, that actually happened: At the hearing, King introduced a woman seated in the front row. Her name, he said, was Mackenzie Miller, and she was pregnant with “little Lincoln Glen Miller,” according to a report from Hannah Levintova at Mother Jones.

And seated next to Miller in the front row was a sonogram.

King proceeded to narrate what the sonogram machine was displaying: “Suck your thumb, ok.” He also decided to narrate the fetus’s thoughts: “That thumb is good, but I can’t wait to be born and see what this world is like out here.”

I knew Steve King was an unabashed white nationalist who soaks in racism the way most people like to soak in a hot bath, but I had no idea that Steve King was a fetus whisperer.

That is brand-new information.

Other scenes from anti-choice theater included Dr. Kathi Aultman, an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which is the research arm of the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List. She confessed during her testimony that she is a mass murderer—Lock her up!?—because she used to perform abortions and she had an abortion.

Abortion opponent Star Parker yammered on about how abortion is like slavery—no, it’s not. It continues to sadden me that Parker, a Black woman, allows herself to be tokenized by conservative white men who don’t give a shit about the plight of Black families. She’s happy to reinforce their nonsense claims that abortion is black genocide; that’s their way of restricting abortion access and, paradoxically, giving the white race a chance to swell its ranks with the unaborted and “rise again.” She then bizarrely co-opted Nicki Minaj’s abortion story, recounted in a 2014 Rolling Stone interview. Parker “painted Minaj as a woman who regretted her abortion (Minaj did not say that) who would have been protected by a bill like HR 490 (Minaj is pro-choice),” according to a report from Stassa Edwards at Jezebel.

“If the heartbeat is detected, the baby is protected,” King announced during his opening statements, channeling the late attorney Johnnie Cochran’s rhyming skills and famous statement, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” during the O.J. Simpson trial.

King went on to tout the constitutionality of the bill, claiming that “the Equal Protection clause demands that the government provides equal protection to all Americans’ lives, liberty and property, including the lives and liberty of Americans living in their mothers’ wombs,” according to a report from the Dallas Morning News. He stressed that life begins “when sperm meets egg.”

Whether that’s true is really not the point, as Rewire President and Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson pointed out years ago when she wrote:

The question is not when life begins. That just obfuscates the real issues. The fundamental issues are:

  • When does pregnancy begin?

  • Does personhood begin at conception? Is a fertilized egg, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus a person with rights that trump those of the woman upon whose body it depends?

  • Do women need “evidence” that if they are pregnant, odds are they are going to have a baby?

  • Do women have the moral agency and fundamental rights to decide whether or not to commit themselves not only to the development of a life within their own bodies, but to a lifelong tie to another human being once a child is born?

And besides, King is wrong. Under Roe v. Wade, pregnant people have the right to a pre-viability abortion, and no fetus is viable at six weeks.

More importantly, the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade specifically rejected the argument that a fetus is a person, so no, Mr. Fetus Whisperer—the 14th Amendment doesn’t protect fetuses.

King’s bill has virtually no chance of becoming law. But that doesn’t much matter. A 20-week ban is already in the pipeline, and its sponsor Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)—who after yesterday’s sonogram theatrics said that the sound of the heartbeat “should speak to the hardest of hearts”—is surely ready to pull a Kasich. If you recall, Gov. John Kasich vetoed a six-week ban in Ohio, calling it too extreme, and “compromised” by signing a 20-week ban that same day. Surely if a six-week ban is too extreme, a 20-week ban is just good common sense?

Well, actually, no. A 20-week abortion ban is unconstitutional too. But it just sounds more reasonable to ban abortions after 20 weeks than after six.

Aren’t Republicans so reasonable?

They want you to think that they are, but they’re not. They are attacking abortion rights from every angle and will not relent until abortion is criminalized or regulated to the point that it is inaccessible.

Under either scenario, however, abortion isn’t going to disappear. It will simply go underground, become unsafe, and result in pregnant people’s deaths.

But in this misogynstic dumpster fire of an administration, who can say that Republicans even care about that.