North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s decision to sign his state’s new law imposing restrictions on abortion despite a very recent campaign pledge that he wouldn’t do so is drawing a lot of derision today. But it should surprise no one.
McCrory’s rationalization was this, according to the AP story on his statement about the bill:
McCrory, however, said he wasn’t limiting access to the procedure, but rather was signing a measure that “will result in safer conditions for North Carolina women.”
“This law does not further limit access and those who contend it does are more interested in politics than the health and safety of our citizens,” McCrory said in a statement.
Well, a bill that bans coverage of abortion services in the new state health care exchanges is certainly a “restriction,” though you might argue that since the exchanges are new the ban doesn’t take away any current rights. McCrory seems to be waving away widespread testimony that the bill’s imposition of ambulatory surgical care standards on abortion clinics would shut down all but one of the state’s clinics on grounds that it hasn’t happened yet and clinics might find a way to comply.
But it’s McCrory’s “health and safety of our citizens” rationale that gets to the dishonest rationale for this legislation and other examples of the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP, as prochoice advocates call it) strategy of the antichoice movement. For one thing, of course, antichoicers are trying to surf on the notoriety of the Kermit Gosnell case in Philadelphia, as though the illegal late-term abortions (and infanticides) performed there are somehow typical. Here are the basic facts from the Guttmacher Institute’s Rachel Benson Gold and Elizabeth Nash:
The rationale behind the campaign to single out abortion clinics for special treatment is that abortion is inherently dangerous; however, the facts say otherwise. Abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure. Less than 0.3% of abortion patients in the United States experience a complication that requires hospitalization. The risk of dying from a legal abortion in the first trimester—when almost nine in 10 abortions in the United States are performed—is no more than four in a million. In fact, the risk of death from childbirth is about 14 times higher than that from abortion.
Nearly all U.S. abortions take place in nonhospital settings, and data going back decades confirm the safety of these procedures. In fact, in 1983, the Supreme Court held in Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health that requirements that abortions be performed in hospitals during the second trimester of pregnancy could not be justified on the basis of protecting the woman’s health and safety. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on abortions performed between 1974 and 1977 found no difference in the risk of death between procedures performed in a hospital and those performed in a clinic or a physician’s office. More recent studies have also found low complication rates for abortions performed in outpatient settings.
So anecdotal complaints about late-term abortions used to rationalize “health and safety” regulations on abortion generally nicely reflect the overall bait-and-switch strategy of the antichoice movement. But it also seems designed to set up a legal challenge to the existing constitutional law of abortion by exploiting the wedge created by Justice Kennedy in the Carhart v. Gonzales decision, which encouraged policymakers to make their own determinations of what women’s health requires in dealing with “health of the mother” exceptions to abortion bans.
This is a familiar phenomenon by now, right out of the national anti-choice playbook. Some governors are honest about what they are doing, most notably Mississippi’s Phil Bryant, who admitted similar legislation in his state was “of course” aimed at shutting off access to abortion entirely. Most others, like McCrory, aren’t honest at all. It’s their paternalistic pretense of wanting to protect women from their own right to choose that’s most annoying, and most telling.