News Abortion

Georgia Legislator: “We Are Going to Save a Thousand Babies”

Robin Marty

The author of the 20 week ban may have somewhat unrealistic hopes.

When Rep. Doug McKillip, the sponsor of the 20 week ban on abortions in Georgia, learned that the Senate had watered down his original bill and added an exception for “medically futile” pregnancies, it was enough to cause him and other members of the House to consider killing the ban all together.

But after negotiations, including eliminating as many “loopholes” as possible and defining medically futile explicitly as “profound and ‘irremediable’ anomalies that would be ‘incompatible with sustaining life after birth,'” McKillip was ready to come back on board.

After the bill passed both chambers, McKillip declared, “We are going to save a thousand babies when this bill goes into effect.”

But are they? According to the CDC, in 2007, the most recent year of reported data, only about 3 percent of abortions are performed after 20 weeks.  That was only 984 terminations.

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Given that the vast majority of later term abortions are performed when fetuses have some sort of defect, at least some of those procedures were likely to have fallen into even that tightly defined medical exception.  And for those that do not meet the “incompatible with sustaining life” but are still dire enough to open the baby to a great deal of pain and suffering after birth, it can only be assumed that a family will look elsewhere, likely to another state… if they have the resources to do so.

Save “a thousand babies”?  Probably not.  Just leave a lot more families desperate and forced to take more effort to end a wanted pregnancy.

Commentary Abortion

Losing My Lege: Texas Legislator Thinks Pregnant People Should be Forced to Carry Dead Fetuses to “Do Penance”

Andrea Grimes

Here's a man who is saying that people who are carrying wanted, but unsustainable, pregnancies must be compelled by the state to carry their fetuses to term because they, and we, are sinners.

Losing My Lege is a weekly column about the goings-on in and around the Austin capitol building during the 84th Texas legislature.

Last week, a grown man stood on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives and argued that the state must force pregnant Texans to try to carry dying, deceased, or non-viable fetuses as long as they can. Anything less, said state Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), wouldn’t be “pro-life.”

These fetuses “are going to suffer, they’re going to feel pain,” just as adults with terminal illnesses do, said Schaefer, a freshman Tea Party politician from East Texas. “That’s part of the human condition, when sin entered the world, and it grieves us all.”

Y’all, I just need us to sit with that statement for a little while. Here’s a man who is saying that people who are carrying wanted, but unsustainable, pregnancies must be compelled by the state to carry their fetuses to term because they, and we, are sinners. And because Matt Schaefer is a sinner. In other words, those families are doing penance on everyone else’s behalf.

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This is, of course, a burden predicated on Schaefer’s personal and particular interpretation of the Christian faith. It also conveniently serves to bolster his image with right-wing voters without ever requiring he lift a compassionless finger.

Because no matter how hard, or how much, or how long any of us sin, I suspect Matt Schaefer will never be forced to carry a dying fetus to term against the advice of his doctors or his own wishes.

I guess pregnant Texans who are grieving the loss of unsustainable pregnancies will just have to do Schaefer’s penance for him. Maybe that’s part of God’s mission for people who aren’t Matt Schaefer, according to the gospel of Matt Schaefer.

And Schaefer is using his faith to justify inflicting state-mandated pain on people who are already experiencing terrible loss. Schaefer’s proposal, which was ultimately pulled down as part of a procedural quibble after it had initially passed, would have banned abortion after 20 weeks if a fetus has a “severe and irreversible abnormality.” That goes so far beyond cruel as to be almost unimaginable.

But of course, this isn’t unimaginable. Because we know Texans have already been forced to give birth to dying or dead fetuses. Even under current law, doctors who are afraid of running afoul of existing anti-abortion statutes often believe they can’t provide their patients with the care their patients want, or the care that doctors themselves recommend, when fetuses cannot live outside the womb. As a result, families have been forced to carry unsustainable pregnancies to term. And they have told us their stories.

We know, beyond doubt, that when lawmakers insert themselves into the private decisions of families who are forced to end wanted, but unsustainable, pregnancies, they cause nothing but more heartbreak. Because laws—and these lawmakers—are not built for nuance. They are built for cruel and cold rhetoric, only meant to appease Texas’ far, farther, farthest right-wing voters.

Schaefer’s proposal, which was tacked on as an amendment to a bill about the bureaucratic operations of the state health department, as if it were some kind of especially abhorrent afterthought, affects just one group of people. It targets Texans who don’t want their dying fetuses—or, perhaps, their babies, if that’s the language they choose to use, and on which subject I defer entirely to families going through this difficult process—to be born, only to suffer for minutes, hours, or days.

Those Texans, under Schaefer’s proposed rule, have no choice but to suffer. Because Matt Schaefer’s God says that they, uniquely, must.

Texans who want to go through the birth process with an unsustainable pregnancy are already legally allowed to do so—and that’s a wonderful, beautiful thing. Texans should be not only allowed, but empowered, to make these decisions without the heavy-handed input of state lawmakers.

I would rebuke any law that forced pregnant Texans to terminate a pregnancy against their wishes. By the same token, I abhor a law that forces a grieving Texan to labor, and labor, and labor—when they knew they could have assuaged that suffering according to their own conscience or their own faith, had fate been more geographically amenable, or had they the means to travel out of state.

We could get into the physical consequences of state-compelled gestation: the fact that a dying or dead fetus could put the life of a pregnant Texan who becomes septic in danger, or that it could affect their future fertility. Those are real risks. They shouldn’t be ignored.

But the next (il)logical step, for Matt Schaefer and lawmakers who think as he does, would be to say that the death of a pregnant person from sepsis is simply the penance for sin. That infertility is a punishment from Godpunishment for the actions of all humans, since time immemorial. I will not walk down that gruesome road.

Because I don’t need a pregnant Texan to be on the verge of death—the remaining exception for allowable post-20 week abortion care under Schafer’s proposed law—to trust their ability to make their own decisions about when, or whether, to end an unsustainable pregnancy. I don’t need that Texan to be threatened with infertility to know that men like Matt Schaefer have no right to play politics with their lives.

Just four Republicans voted against Schaefer’s amendment, including two physicians: John Zerwas (R-Richmond) and J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville). Sheffield, in particular, implored his fellow GOP members to vote against it, saying that GOP lawmakers “have not been the ones taking care of the babies with the feeding tubes,” or who are sustained on machines or with artificial nutrition.

“I’m not saying those babies are less of a life for our God to treasure or less of a life for us to love,” implored Sheffield. “That is not the argument.”

He continued, asking, “Why should the heavy, blunt hand of government come into that most heart-rending decision?”

Why? I’m sorry to say that I believe I know.

It is because GOP lawmakers think they need to win primaries at all costs, and they feel that they need to pander to the state’s most conservative voters—voters who are already allowed to carry pregnancies with life-incompatible fetal anomalies to term, if that is their choice—in order to do so.

I know this because while Texas house leaders considered the procedural point of order that eventually resulted in the entire bill, including Schaefer’s amendment, being blessedly pulled down, the house’s Tea Party contingent gathered for a very public prayer on the house floor. They made sure everyone got a good look, preening and pandering to the smartphones and news photographers in the room. We’ll almost certainly see photos of that prayer huddle again come election season, as Tea Partiers glom on to Schaefer’s ghoulish version of Christianity.

Maybe the Tea Party bible doesn’t read the same as mine. When I look up Matthew 6:5, it reads: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

The reward, I suppose, would be another successful primary win. The penance? Well, that’s to be paid by someone else.

Commentary Abortion

Anti-Choicers Are Going to Take Away Second-Trimester Abortion Without Much Notice

Amanda Marcotte

Anti-choicers have mastered the art of minimizing the impact of abortion laws to trick the public into shrugging them off. By using this method, they are poised to restrict second-trimester abortion access in many states without a major fuss.

Kansas and Oklahoma, both of which have passed laws banning the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure that is used in most abortions after 13 weeks, have graduated to a new level in their efforts to stamp out reproductive rights. As Dahlia Lithwick at Slate explained, these laws “are radically different” from those of the past few years, which have tried to tried to chip away at abortion access by using phony concerns about women’s health as a cover; instead, Kansas and Oklahoma’s new legislation is simply a vehicle “to overturn Roe once and for all.” So getting the Supreme Court to agree with the anti-choice side about these bans would open the door to just banning abortion outright—no pretending to care about women necessary.

Seems like it should be enormous news, right? Especially considering there are similar restrictions being considered in Missouri and South Carolina. And sure, there’s been some coverage of it in the mainstream media, such as Lithwick’s piece and an op-ed condemning the move in the New York Times, as well as local outlets in Kansas and Oklahoma covering the bans. But not enough. For the most part, it seems as if there’s been little outrage or fear. Is this going to be one of those attacks on abortion rights that a weary public is going to shrug off as no big deal?

The anti-choice movement has employed a twofold strategy here: Overwhelm the news cycle with restrictions on abortion so that the public starts to tune the stories out, and make any one regulation seem so minor that the response, especially from people in the “muddy middle,” will be to shrug and say, “Well, as long as you can still get your abortion, I don’t see the problem.” It’s diabolical—and it’s effective.

The fact that the public is starting to shrug at the-abortion-restriction-of-the-day stories is totally understandable. “When we have come to the point that more than 330 abortion restrictions have been introduced in 43 states since January,” Lithwick wrote, “It’s awfully hard to keep track of which are worth worrying about and which are merely variations on old themes.” The endless churn of it grows wearisome for those of us who work on this subject for a living. It’s hard to imagine people who understandably have other priorities giving this issue the attention it needs.

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And as far as the second part of the strategy goes, anti-choice activists and politicians have long taken great pains to claim, falsely, that the restrictions they’re imposing will not meaningfully impact the ability to access abortion. Take Rep. Pat McElraft of North Carolina, trying to justify a bill earlier this month that would ban state medical schools from teaching abortion by claiming there are “other options”: “Abortion physicians learn from all kinds of training—spontaneous abortions or miscarriages.”

Or Justice Edith Jones, justifying making women drive hundreds of miles for an abortion by arguing last year that the road on which they’d have to do so is a “peculiarly flat and not congested highway.”

Or Justice Anthony Kennedy arguing in favor of banning the dilation and extraction procedure in Gonzales v. Carhart eight years ago: “Alternatives are available to the prohibited procedure. As we have noted, the Act does not proscribe D&E.” Of course, banning D and E is what anti-choicers started working on next, showing that this belief in “alternatives” is just a feint.

You’d think these defenders would consider it a bad thing if restrictions didn’t meaningfully impact care. The fact that they continuously claim that these regulations are no big deal, therefore, can only be an attempt to get this “shrug” reaction—to create the illusion that pro-choicers are crying wolf and can be safely ignored by the public.

The same minimizing techniques are on display with the defenses of these new Kansas and Oklahoma bills. Anti-choice activists are careful to describe the bills as simply banning a certain kind of procedure, which suggests there are many alternatives should you really need them. LifeSiteNews, for example, portrayed people who criticize this law as “extremists” who are devoted to “an abortion absolutist agenda.” It implied that pro-choicers are rejecting some kind of middle ground, with no acknowledgement that this law, which bans the procedure that is universally acknowledged as the best way to do abortions in the second trimester, is the actual example of extremism.

The Washington Times plays a similar game, writing, “Oklahoma has become the second state to outlaw an abortion procedure that ‘dismembers’ the fetus in the womb as part of the process.” The phrasing suggests that it’s just a kind of abortion that is criminalized, with no acknowledgement that it’s the standard of abortion care at this stage in pregnancy. Instead, the article highlights statements from pro-choicers calling D and E the “safest and most expeditious kind of care,” allowing the reader to erroneously conclude that this isn’t so much a ban on most second-trimester abortions as a ban on just one kind.

Imagine, if you will, that you wanted to ban cars from the road but you knew that a law banning cars would not fly. So instead you pass a law that says you’re only banning the use of “internal combustion engine-style vehicles.” A lot of people would reasonably assume that this is only a ban on a certain kind of car, not knowing that nearly all cars run on internal combustion engines. It would obviously be an attempt to ban cars without admitting that you’re banning cars. That’s what anti-choicers are doing with these D and E bans: implying that this is a narrow ban when, in fact, it’s a broad one. And their strategy is working.

It appears that the anti-choice movement really has figured out how to take abortion rights away from us, without us even noticing. They know the public would revolt against them if they tried to take abortion away outright, so instead they aim their legislation at getting a nonchalant response. If and when the public responds by saying, “Doesn’t seem like that big a deal,” or “Call me when they actually manage to end legal abortion,” the anti-choicers are winning. After all, by the time we’re all panicked enough to stop shrugging, it will be too late.