Brownback’s Backdoor Anti-Abortion Bill?

Julie Burkhart

Senator Sam Brownback does not believe abortion should be legal in any circumstances - not even for victims of rape or incest. But this time he's introduced a bill that has some folks scratching their heads.

Senator Sam Brownback is not well-known outside the state of Kansas. You're likely scratching your head trying to figure out why you recognize his name. Think back to very early in the Republican race, when the debates were populated by 11 different candidates. The guy on the outer wings, the one who said that he didn't believe in evolution and that he'd like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, the one with the curly hair and the Kansas drawl, that's him.

Sen. Brownback is known for his extreme conservatism. It's not just fiscal restraint and state's rights with this guy. He has members of the far-right saying, "Wow, this guy is hard-core." Not surprisingly, Sen. Brownback is thoroughly anti-choice. He does not believe that there are any circumstances under which a termination of pregnancy is acceptable, not even in cases of rape or incest. So it's not a shock that he's introduced another bill regarding abortion. The knee-jerk reaction is to assume that any bill coming from Sen. Brownback regarding this issue is inherently flawed and a thinly veiled effort to undermine women's rights, which is why everyone who has read the bill or anything about it is finding themselves a little confused, because that's not what this bill is. 

Here's what the bill does:

For women and families whose prenatal testing has indicated that the fetus has a genetic disorder, physicians will be required to provide "access to timely, scientific, and nondirective counseling about conditions being tested for and accuracy of such tests." Additionally, the bill would create a nation-wide list of families who are willing to adopt children with special needs and referral to support services, including a national clearinghouse of coping resources.

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While he may be getting cheers from some, Sen. Brownback's efforts smack of an inability to grasp the difficulty of the heartbreaking choices some families must make. A diagnoses of Down Syndrome does not always mean that a family will give birth to a living child with Down's. What it can mean is that the disorder is such that their baby will die from Down's. The same is true for many genetic and chromosomal disorders. There are degrees of severity and some of them simply are not compatible with life.

The spirit of this bill is laudable; anything that allows women and families to make the decision that is best for them is a step in the right direction. But one step doesn't get you to a destination. If Sen. Brownback is serious about reducing abortion, then it's time to focus on the causes and impact of unplanned pregnancy. In fact, knowing Brownback's typical M.O., one has to wonder if this is an attempt to lull everyone into a false sense of security before tacking on a bunch of amendments that undermine a woman's right to choose.

Sen. Brownback says that this bill is an effort to promote the "culture of life." But the so-called "culture of life" has to be about more than preventing abortions, it must be about making it easier to access information, birth control and the resources parents need to raise children in today's world.

The fact is that the "culture of life" is not being promoted in this country, period. Families are not guaranteed paid medical leave, not all women can access the preventative health care necessary to decrease and detect birth defects, students are not given honest and thorough sex education, and when given the chance to cover low-income children for healthcare, the Congress (Sen. Brownback included) said "no."

What are we to make of a culture that focuses more on the pre-born than they do the pre-schooler? There must be a broad and sweeping overhaul in how this country deals with issues like poverty, health care and education before anything can be done to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions.

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