Abortion Ban Bill: This Time It’s Personal

It’s easy to get bored with the Kabuki elements of abortion policy and politics. Most of the arguments from the anti-choice folks are about extremely rare late-term abortions that in their hearts they probably don’t consider more morally objectionable than the use of an IUD. Their aim is to gradually change public opinion, make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers and the women consulting them, and also to create a legal avenue whereby the Supreme Court can someday soon overturn Roe v. Wade.

All these elements are visible in the latest House GOP drive to enact a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill is back in the news because House Republicans wanted to provide a decent interval for bad publicity to subside about an earlier version that required rape victims to report to the police to get a certification of their rape and its circumstances before being allowed to terminate the resulting pregnancy. The new bill’s rape-and-incest “exceptions” are pretty bad, too, but it will take a while for that to become apparent, and after all, House GOPers have promises to keep to the anti-choice movement. The bill passed the House 242-184 on a mostly party-line vote, and it’s going nowhere in the Senate.

But one thing seems to be changing in these eternal abortion debates: women, including House Members, are increasingly willing to talk about their own experiences. Here’s an excerpt from a report by RH Reality Check‘s Emily Crockett:

The bill passed after an impassioned floor debate, during which female representatives testified both to their own and others’ experiences with complicated pregnancies. They said that only about 1 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks, usually in difficult and personal circumstances that are impossible to legislate around.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) talked about her own two abortions, and how it felt to have to “carry around a dead fetus for two days” while waiting for her medically necessary abortion procedure.

“Women who go through these experiences go through them with so much pain and anguish,” Speier said.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) called the bill “disgustingly cruel” and read aloud the stories of real women whose struggles with medical and financial hardship brought them to the difficult and expensive decision to have a later abortion.

Some women had fetuses with no chance of survival or medical conditions like lupus that made the pregnancy too dangerous to continue. Another had to borrow money from friends because she was already living in a homeless shelter with two children, couldn’t care for another, and was further along than she realized.

One woman was desperate enough to ask her rapist to help fund the abortion.

“If you haven’t talked to any of these women, you don’t know what they have been through,” Slaughter said.

It’s increasingly obvious that the fetus-poster people don’t have a monopoly on the moral and emotional dimensions of the abortion debate. And even as the GOP seeks ways to wedge open a path whereby really serious abortion restrictions can be enacted–with the main strategem being the election of a Republican president next year who will be pre-sworn to do everything possible to outlaw abortion–regaining the high ground is ultimately the best defense for those fighting for reproductive rights.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.