Abortion Bills Raise Questions That Republicans Want to Avoid

Now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arranged for Donald Trump to secure a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, Republican legislators and governors in red states are furiously passing laws that they hope will provide the vehicle for overturning Roe vs Wade.

Not content to rely on their most recent lies about so-called “infanticide” in cases where parents sign a “do not resuscitate” order for a baby destined to die, they are passing some of the most extremist laws this country has seen since the Supreme Court made abortion legal in 1973.

Previously, the anti-choice movement was focused on curtailing abortion rights by promoting restrictions that could be exploited with those who were uncomfortable with the procedure in certain situations. The “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” that allowed them to make the infanticide argument is a case in point. Those challenges put the pro-choice movement on the defensive.

But recent bills passed in Ohio, Georgia, and Alabama have turned all of that around and could very well put the anti-choice movement on defense, sparking discussions they would rather avoid.

Personhood

At the heart of the anti-choice movement is the idea that a fetus is a person and abortion is murder. Rep. Terri Collins, who sponsored the Alabama bill, made it clear that affirming that notion is the point.

“The heart of this bill is to confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in the womb is not a person,” Collins said. “This bill addresses that one issue. Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our law says it is. I believe our people say it is. And I believe technology shows it is.”

Common to this argument is the idea that personhood begins at the moment of conception. That is why the Alabama legislation outlaws ALL abortions rather than set a timetable for when they become illegal. It is also why there are no exceptions for rape or incest, only the life of the mother.

If you accept that a fetus is a person from the moment of conception, why would you allow it to be murdered via abortion during the first few weeks of pregnancy or based on how it was conceived? If the mother’s life is threatened, however, a choice must be made about which life to save—the baby or the mother.

But even the supporters of the Alabama bill can’t defend the personhood of an embryo in a test tube.

Demonstrating that this bill raises questions that anti-abortionists want to avoid, both Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed are raising concerns about it. But the legislation passed in Alabama is the logical extension of their arguments. It puts them in the position of having to defend why they would not ban abortion at any time and under any circumstances other than to save the life of the mother?

What the anti-abortionists want to avoid is having to hear from women like Shannon Dingle who was raped repeatedly as a child by family members and became pregnant when she was 12 years old. Listen to how a girl that age copes with her trauma.

But I felt like this pregnancy brought hope, so much so that I named the baby inside me Hope. I was sure Hope’s existence would bring about change. No one could deny my abuse with genetic proof.

Shannon eventually miscarried, but here are her thoughts as an adult looking back on that experience.

I need you to know that any child’s pregnancy is the result of rape, because no child can consent to sex. I need you to know that any child’s pregnancy is traumatic, no matter the outcome, because little girls aren’t supposed to have full wombs. I need you to know that I didn’t know I had options, because I knew girls who got pregnant were called sluts and girls who had abortions were called murderers.

And I need you to know that if I had lived under the Ohio law recently passed, I would have been too late to consider abortion by the time I realized I was pregnant. And if I had lived under the Alabama bill likely to be signed into law, being a repeated rape victim wouldn’t given me any options…

I know responses to my story will include ones about how what happened to me is rare. I’m the exception, not the norm, they’ll say.

But I need you to know that every story is unique. Every discussion of abortion between a woman and her doctor is different.

Once you start listening to women like Shannon, your preconceived ideas formed in isolation from actual experience start to fall apart. Unless you are willing to tell a girl like Shannon that she must carry her pregnancy to term, you are undercutting all of the arguments about abortion being the murder of innocent babies.

Punishment

Another argument these anti-abortion bills raise is, “who should be punished?” That is another question that is usually swept under the rug. The bill passed in Georgia, which bans abortions after six weeks, doesn’t address it. But since the legislation defines the fetus as a “natural person,” some people have speculated that both women who chose to have an abortion and the medical professionals involved could face murder charges. Alabama’s bill would charge the abortion provider with a Class A felony, but doesn’t propose any charges for a woman seeking an abortion.

The speculation about Georgia’s bill raises the pertinent question: if abortion is the murder of an innocent child, how does one avoid punishing both the mother who contracts the killing out and the doctor who carries it out?

The questions about personhood and punishment have remained out of the spotlight as anti-abortionists attempted to whittle around the edges of a woman’s right to chose. But the extremists who are behind the recent slate of bills might actually be responsible for bringing them out into the open. There can be no doubt that the lives of women will be damaged significantly by the draconian measures being introduced. But they might also force all of us to face the hard questions about this issue that, up until now, have been avoided.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.