News Abortion

Texas Congressman: Masturbating Fetuses Prove Need for Abortion Ban

Adele M. Stan

The hands of the male fetus may sometimes appear to be gripping its genitals. And that, says Rep. Michael Burgess, is why abortion should be banned even earlier in pregnancy than the GOP is seeking in a bill on its way to the floor.

As the House of Representatives gears up for Tuesday’s debate on HR 1797, a bill that would outlaw virtually all abortions 20 weeks post fertilization, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) argued in favor of banning abortions even earlier in pregnancy because, he said, male fetuses that age were already, shall we say, spanking the monkey.

“Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” said Burgess, a former OB/GYN. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”

That observation led Burgess to say he had argued for the abortion ban to start at a much earlier stage of gestation, 15 or 16 weeks. (This is less than halfway through a pregnancy.) He appeared to liken Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, to the 1893 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that formally legalized racial segregation, and was not fully reversed until Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The rationale for the Republican bill, which advanced through the House Judiciary last week on a near-total party-line vote, is one scientifically disputed study, touted by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) in his opening remarks at today’s Rules Committee hearing, that asserts fetuses can feel pain as early as 20 weeks after sperm meets egg.

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“Well, I think all the members are cognizant of the fact that this is not a Congress that cares much about science,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the Rules Committee’s ranking member, in her questioning of Goodlatte, who refuted that claim by saying that since 1973, the year when the Supreme Court legalized abortion, much more had been learned about fetal development.

Major medical bodies in the United States and the United Kingdom have refuted the claim of fetal pain before the third trimester.

The 20-week abortion ban, if passed into law, would set up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, which allows abortion up to the point of fetal viability outside the womb, and mandates exceptions for abortions in the case of pregnancies that threaten the life or health of the woman.

When first drafted, the 20-week ban was meant to apply only to the District of Columbia, over which Congress has a great deal of control. But with the arrest and murder conviction of Kermit Gosnell, who ran an illegal abortion clinic in Philadelphia, right-wing forces have sought to use justifiable public revulsion at Gosnell’s actions to further restrict women’s rights—and in contradiction to the common right-wing assertion of state sovereignty.

Former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, speaking before a right-wing gathering in Washington, DC, last week, put it this way: “This is a time for the pro-life movement like we have not had in decades. We must seize the moment.”

Goodlatte, in his opening statement, framed the ban as a measure to prevent practices such as Gosnell’s, a conflation that Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) termed “a red herring” which, he said, had nothing to do with the way abortion is practiced in legal clinics.

Rebutting Goodlatte’s pronouncements on the stage of development at which fetuses feel pain, Nadler (D-NY) noted doubts that the study’s own author, Kanwaljeet “Sunny” Anand, MD, had about its assertions, having stated in 2005 testimony that evidence of fetal pain in the second trimester of pregnancy “was uncertain.”

Nadler also took issue with the tepid exception to the ban for women who were pregnant through rape or incest—a measure added last minute after Rep. Trent Franks, the bill’s sponsor, said at last week’s Judiciary Committee hearing that the incidence of pregnancy from rape is low. With the 2014 midterm elections looming, GOP leaders scrambled to avoid the kind of fallout encountered in 2012 when Republican senatorial candidates Todd Akin (MO) and Richard Mourdock (IN) saw their campaigns tank after making comments about rape, pregnancy, and abortion.

The exception applies only to women who “first reported the rape or the incest to the authorities,” Nadler said, and, in the case of incest, the exception applied only to minors, even if an adult woman had been abused by the relative who had impregnated her since she was a child.

“It would be great if every rape or assault would be reported,” Nadler said, but the Republicans’ last-minute amendment—made after Republicans in the Judiciary Committee rejected a rape-and-incest exception offered by the Democrats—made no allowance for the toll often taken on rape victims in the judicial system, he said, including sometimes facing death threats from the friends and neighbors of the perpetrator.

“So, the authors of this bill apparently believe that women are too dishonest to be believed when they say they were raped or the victims of incest,” Nadler said. “It is Congress siding with her abuser…”.

There is also no protection for the health of the woman in the bill, nor an exception allowing for saving the life of the woman, except in terms defined so narrowly, Nadler continued, as to be virtually useless.

Democrats have been quick to note, as Slaughter did in the Rules Committee hearing, that the Republicans who voted the bill to the floor in the House Judiciary Committee were all men, due to the fact that the GOP hasn’t appointed a single woman to one of Congress’ most important committees.

So, when the 20-week abortion ban bill—deceptively titled the “Pain-Capable Infant Protection Act” —comes to the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, you won’t find Trent Franks managing the floor debate. Instead, GOP leaders have tapped the ardently anti-choice Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to lead that charge.

Update: See video of Burgess’ comments above, at right. (H/T to AmericaBlog for earlier version of video.)

Commentary Politics

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Square Off Over Abortion Law, New Bill

Tara Murtha

Anti-choice legislators in Pennsylvania recently pulled out all the stops when debating a bill that would be one of the nation's harshest abortion laws if passed. But in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling, other state lawmakers are trying to stop that bill and change existing policy.

With the new U.S. Supreme Court abortion ruling, some Pennsylvania lawmakers want to roll back provisions similar to those struck down in Texas—and to head off any new restrictions in a bill debated on the house floor in late June.

Several legislators have called for repeal of Act 122, which was enacted in 2012 and mandates that Pennsylvania abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ ambulatory surgical center provision in the 5-3 Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision. Justice Stephen Breyer concluded in the opinion that the provision represented a “substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion” and was unconstitutional.

Soon after the decision, Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware), a member of the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania legislature, wrote a memo recommending repeal of Act 122. And at a June 30 press conference organized by the caucus, Rep. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks) introduced legislation to do just that. He weighed in on another bill, HB 1948, discussed in the house on June 21.

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During that debate, “[anti-choice lawmakers] were exposed, they were unmasked,” Rep. Santarsiero said. “They stood one person after another after another in support of [HB 1948], and they came right out and said this is all about the anti-choice movement. They were exposed. They tried 20 years ago to claim it was not about that, but they’re not making any pretense at this point.”

Like Act 122, HB 1948 is an urgent matter. Anti-choice lawmaker Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) introduced the latter legislation in April, which would be one of the most severe laws in the country if enacted. HB 1948 would ban abortion beginning at 20 weeksIt also includes a “method ban” provision, which would criminalize dilation and evacuation (D and E), often used after miscarriages and for abortions earlier than 20 weeks.

Currently, HB 1948 is still on the schedule of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary committee. Though the senate may reconvene this summer, it’s unclear when or whether HB 1948 will move forward.

But advocates must not lose sight of this bill. 

A ‘Dangerous Precedent’

HB 1948 inserts the legislature into the doctor-patient relationship, forcing medical professionals, ordinary Pennsylvanians, and even some legislators out of the process. In April, lawmakers twice rejected requests for input on HB 1948 from both medical professionals and the public. When Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) spoke out against the bill, his microphone was reportedly cut off.

Struggling to be heard, doctors and relevant medical associations sent open letters and wrote op-eds against the bill. “We are highly concerned that the bill sets a dangerous precedent by legislating specific treatment protocols,” wrote Scott E. Shapiro, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, in an April letter sent to legislators.

They are right to be concerned. Around the country, lawmakers with no medical training frequently propose method bans to criminalize the safest, medically proven procedures. They then threaten to imprison doctors if they don’t provide less-than-optimal care for their patients. This kind of legislative coercion brings to mind Donald Trump’s March statement that women who seek abortion should suffer “some form of punishment” for having an abortion.

Punishment, indeed. Under HB 1948, the punishment can go one of two ways: Either women receive less-than-optimal care, or doctors must be incarcerated. While considering the potential fiscal impact of HB 1948, lawmakers discussed how much it would cost to imprison doctors: $35,000 a year, the annual expense to care for an inmate in Pennsylvania.

My colleagues here at the Women’s Law Project, who co-authored a brief cited by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt concurrence, have sent an open letter to senate leadership asking them to remove HB 1948 from further consideration.

The letter said:

If enacted, HB 1948 would inflict even greater harm on the health of Pennsylvania women than House Bill 2 would have inflicted on Texas women. Relevant medical experts such as the Pennsylvania section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Pennsylvania Medical Society strongly oppose this bill.

Under well-established constitutional standards, HB 1948 is quite clearly unconstitutional.

The Strange Debate About HB 1948

For a while, HB 1948 seemed to have stalled—like much business in the legislature. It took more than 270 days to finalize the 2015 budget—an impasse that forced dozens of nonprofit organizations serving rape survivors, domestic violence victims, hungry children, and the elderly to lay off workers and turn away clients.

But in April, Pennsylvania lawmakers whisked HB 1948 to the floor within 24 hours. Then, on June 21, the bill suddenly sailed through the appropriations committee and was rushed to the house floor for third consideration.

HB 1948 passed the house after the kind of bizarre, cringe-worthy debate that makes “Pennsylvania House of Representatives” feel like an insult to the good people of the state. Surely, Pennsylvanians can represent themselves better than elected officials who want to punish abortion providers, liken abortions to leeches, ignore science, and compare abortion regulations to laws restricting pigeon shooting. Surely, they can do better than the legislators who hosted the June 21 farce of a debate about a bill designed to force women to carry unviable pregnancies to term.

At that debate, primary sponsor Rep. Rapp stood for questions about HB 1948. But when Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky (D-Delaware County) began the debate by asking Rapp about what doctors, if any, were consulted during the drafting of the bill, Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) halted proceedings to consider if such a question is permissible. Also a co-sponsor of the bill, he concluded it was not, offering the explanation that legislators can inquire about the content of the bill, but not its source or development.

Rapp eventually stated she had many meetings while drafting the bill, but refused to answer with whom. She invoked “legislator’s privilege” and insisted the meetings were “private.” Legislator’s privilege is an esoteric provision in the state constitution intended to protect the process from undue influence of lobbyists, not shield lobbyists from public inquiry.

The bill’s language—referring to D and E by the nonmedical term “dismemberment abortion”—echoes legislation promoted by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). The NRLC has also drafted boilerplate 20-week bans, along with Americans United for Life, an anti-choice organization and a leading architect of the incremental strategy for building barriers to access safe and legal reproductive health care.

Next, Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) asked Rapp if similar bills have been deemed unconstitutional in other states.

Indeed, they have. According to Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues advocate at the Guttmacher Institute, similar D and E bans have been blocked in Oklahoma and Kansas, and 20-week bans have been struck down in Arizona and Idaho. HB 1948 is one of the first pieces of legislation to combine both provisions into one bill; at the Women’s Law Project, we call it a “double abortion ban.”

But no one in the chambers would know that these anti-abortion restrictions have been obstructed because, once again, Speaker Turzai halted the proceedings over these questions. This time, he stopped the debate citing the house rule that lawmakers cannot ask a question if they already know, or the speaker suspects they know, the answer.

In any case, so it went. Pro-choice lawmakers of the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature spoke out against the bill, reading letters from physicians and sharing tragic stories of family members who died after being denied abortion care during severe pregnancy complications.

When Rep. Rapp was asked if she knew that many severe fetal abnormalities were not diagnosed until or after the 20th week of pregnancy, she responded that many were not diagnosed until birth, which misses the point: HB 1948 is designed to deprive women who receive a diagnosis of a severe fetal anomaly, even unviable pregnancy, at 20 weeks or later of safe and legal abortion.

That’s alright with Rapp and others pushing HB 1948; the bill contains no exemptions for fetal anomalies or pregnancies that were a result of rape.

The bill’s supporters didn’t refute allegations that if passed into law, it would negatively affect health care. They argued their case by invoking metaphors instead. They compared abortion regulations to laws about pigeon shoots. They compared fetuses to bald eagles and abortion to leeches. A white male legislator, a description unfortunately almost synonymous with “Pennsylvania legislator,” compared abortion to slavery, drawing the ire of Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia).

“We use slavery references when it benefits, but won’t do anything about the systems that negatively affect their descendants,” tweeted Rep. Harris.

Democratic Rep. Dan Frankel, co-chair of the Women’s Health Caucus, attempted to put the bill into context by noting the barrage of abortion restrictions passed in Pennsylvania already. In addition to the ambulatory surgical facility requirement, the state already has a ban prohibiting women from purchasing affordable health insurance that covers abortion through the exchange; an arbitrary 24-hour mandated waiting period; and a Medicaid ban that allows federal funding of abortions only in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

The house voted 132-65 in favor of the bill, mostly among party lines, though 25 Democrats voted for it and nine Republicans voted against it. Gov. Wolf has promised he will veto it if passes, while HB 1948 proponents are working to gather enough votes for an override if necessary.

News Abortion

Michigan Governor Signs Republican-Initiated ‘Abortion Coercion’ Bills Into Law

Michelle D. Anderson

Snyder signed into law HB 4787 and its companion bill, HB 4830, last week, making it a criminal offense to coerce a pregnant person to have an abortion against their will.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed into law last week a two-bill package that will penalize citizens who engage in what Republican lawmakers are calling “abortion coercion.”

Snyder signed into law HB 4787 and its companion bill, HB 4830, on June 9, making it a criminal offense to coerce a pregnant person to have an abortion against their will.

As part of an omnibus anti-abortion legislative effort in 2012, the Republican-controlled legislation implemented provisions that involved a screening process for coercion at abortion clinics.

HB 4787, sponsored by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township) and supported by Right to Life of Michigan, explicitly criminalizes coercing someone into an abortion. Under HB 4787, penalties include “a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000.00.”

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The law also outlines the many forms of coercion the bill seeks to prevent, including threats. For example, “threaten” is defined as making “2 or more statements or to engage in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the individual is likely to act in accordance with the statements or the course of conduct.”

The companion law, HB 4830, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton), creates felony penalties of jail time or $5,000 to $10,000 fines for those found guilty of violating HB 4787.

In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bills by a 3-1 vote, sending the measure to the Senate for a full vote. The House of Representatives had approved the two-bill package in March.

In 2012, Michigan lawmakers in support of the omnibus bill cited a 2004 study co-authored by David Reardon, the engineer who founded the anti-choice nonprofit organization, the Elliot Institute. That study, titled “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women” was published in the Medical Science Monitor and suggested 64 percent of women who had abortions said they felt pressured into having the procedure performed.

Pro-choice advocates have criticized the study, noting that it used a small sample size of American women, 50 percent of whom already believed abortion was “morally wrong.” Advocates also point to a 2005 Guttmacher Institute study in which 14 percent of women who were asked their reasons for choosing abortion cited “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion,” and 6 percent cited “parents want me to have an abortion.” However, the Guttmacher study also found that less than 0.5 percent of each group cited those wishes as the single most important reason for having the abortion.

Many critics note that the Michigan laws do not include language that protects people forced into carrying a pregnancy to term and only focuses on those who are forced into terminating a pregnancy.

Sen. Rebekah Warren, (D-Ann Arbor) in particular, criticized that aspect of the legislation, according to the Detroit News.

“If we’re going to say today that it’s unacceptable today to coerce a woman into having an abortion and terminating a pregnancy, it should be equally unacceptable to force a woman into continuing a pregnancy that may not be in her best interest, that may not be what she needs for her health or mental well-being or for her future,” Warren said.

When the Michigan legislature began considering the two bills in 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood affiliates in Michigan spoke out against the law, arguing they were unnecessary.

Shelli Weisberg of the ACLU of Michigan told MLive.com that coercive abortion laws were rooted in false assumptions that those seeking abortion care are “confused, misled or coerced.”

Similarly, Planned Parenthood and lawmakers like Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren), said Michigan already had laws in place to prevent and penalize people who engage in coercive behavior such as stalking and discriminating against pregnant people, according to the Detroit News.