Earlier this year, Republican State Representative Bobby Franklin placed a bill before the Georgia General Assembly that attempts to empower and require the state to intervene in what the bills refers to as “prenatal murder.” The bill, Georgia House Bill 1, begins with this summary (bold mine for emphasis):
This matter of the bill making “findings of fact” is something I find very disturbing. As an example, the bill simply states outright that “because a fetus is a person, constitutional protection attaches at the moment of conception.” The bill goes on from there to assert a consequential state mandate to protect such “innocent life.”
The bill, which explicitly rejects Roe v. Wade “or any other case pertaining to a state's punishment of the crime of prenatal murder,” is full of not just extreme assertions but self-conscious attempts to justify them by citing history and precedents, as if it's aware it would see a court challenge and would prefer to argue the case in the bill itself. Any summary I would make could be challenged as not capturing it properly, so I suggest clicking through and either reading or just skimming the text. But I will offer just a few more quotations (again, bold mine):
No mention is made of the terribly difficult choices women are forced to make in the face of their own ill health or the possible ill health or deformity of a fetus, the possibility of a baby being born into an economically or socially challenged family situation, if any family at all. All Georgia abortions occur in Lake Wobegon, Georgia, where pregnancies, if carried to term, would result in women who would be strong, men who would be good looking, and children who would be above average. It's hard to generalize because each circumstance is individual and personal, which is why I believe abortion should be a personal decision left to the pregnant woman without state meddling, but clearly this business of “making certain findings of fact” is stretched beyond all reasonableness in the outlandish claims of Item 26 above.
The document spends a considerable amount of text editing other legislation to remove any reference to abortions as health care procedures. As examples, at one point it replaces “product of human conception” with “prenatal human person,” and in another it replaces “induced termination of pregnancy” with “prenatal murder.” It also removes “induced termination of pregnancy” from a list of vital statistics that can be reported to the state registrar under an absolute privacy privilege that prevents any cause of action against the discloser. And it establishes these definitions:
At this point it won't surprise you that this bill requires that a person accused of “prenatal murder” will have their license immediately suspended “until resolution of the matter,” and that, upon conviction, that person would “be punished as provided in subsection (d) of Code Section 16-5-1,” that is, “death or imprisonment for life.”
Okay, so this legislation is proposed, but will it pass? It's hard to know. I'd guess it won't, but these things are never a certainty and certainly bear watching.
Republicans planning to run for office are asked to take pro-life pledges. For example, several 2012 Republican Presidential Candidates have signed the Pro-Life Citizen's Pledge created by the controversially-named Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List. Signers of that particular pledge agree to, among other things, “advance and sign into law a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.”
Because of this trend toward swearing allegiance not only to the flag but to a series of partisan pledges, many of the statements I and many others find objectionable in this legislation are ones I don't think you'll find many Republican leaders willing to stand up and oppose. Doing so is, in effect, political suicide since signing onto this kind of agenda is pretty much a litmus test issue for Republican Party loyalty. And, given that, when pieces of legislation like this are proposed, they are often treated with surprising reverence since Republican “leaders” feel obliged to carry through on their pledges.
And beyond that, even just the presence of extreme legislation like this in the field of discussion gives cover for other legislation that is still extreme, yet perhaps not as extreme. Suddenly the less extreme legislation may be referred to as “moderate” and the entire discussion becomes distorted.
Ever-Changing Fields of Battle
This whole issue is back in the news recently as an article in Think Progress recently reports on prosecutions brought in Alabama under the state's “chemical endangerment” law against women who miscarried and had previously used drugs, even where there was no evidence the drug use caused the miscarriage.
Fetal homicide laws exist in 38 of 50 states. They were were originally introduced to protect pregnant women from abuse, but in a number of those states the emerging practice has been for pro-life prosecutors to use such laws against women who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy, asking them to prove that the loss was not a fetal homicide. The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains summaries of those laws and related case law.
Original intent is apparently not a concern for such legislation, which was never originally intended for the purpose of prosecuting women who lose pregnancies. But original intent only matters for the Constitution, I guess—Conservative courts are free to creatively reinterpret legislative intent without fear of being branded as judicial activists, and without losing their right to claim they are originalists.
Meanwhile, in Kansas, a very different approach is recently being taken to curtailing reproductive rights for women—burying the clinics in arbitrary administrative requirements. New regulations establish acceptable temperature ranges and minimum sizes of various rooms in a clinic. According to Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, “These rules go way beyond what's necessary for a safe, frequently-performed procedure. There are other kinds of surgeries done without these regulations that carry a much higher risk.” Rather, the regulations seem clearly to have been chosen arbitrarily in such a way as to preclude the continued operation of existing clinics. Although a federal judge has blocked implementation of the new law, the law was rushed into effect with unusual speed in order to minimize chances that clinics would have time to respond to the to the rules. Similar red tape tactics have been used in Virginia.
The Big Picture
It's amazing that the Republican Party can speak with a straight face about reducing the size and scope of government at one moment and yet talk about expanding government's intrusion into these very private and personal issues. Recent moves to deliberately increase regulatory loads on abortion clinics shows that there is really no substance to Republican claims that they take a principled approach to small government. Rather, it exposes a desire to simply pursue an agenda that fires up their base enough to get them to the polls and then to justify it after-the-fact by whatever inconsistent argument sounds good at the moment. To me, it seems pretty transparently Machiavellian.
And while it's all done in the name of what is portrayed as a noble quest, usually portrayed as “the saving of innocent life,” it's hard to see what the point is because as soon as that innocent life is born, the Republicans seem quite willing to cut support for health care affecting children, including support for Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP, previously known as SCHIP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
H.R. 1683, the “State Flexibility Act,” introduced in May of this year, proposes to repeal Medicaid and CHIP maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements on states. As an analysis at Kathryn Baer's “Poverty & Policy” blog aptly sums things up, “Everyone agrees that rising health care costs are major drivers of the long-term projected deficit. But new controls on Medicare spending are contentious – and politically dicey, as House Republicans are swiftly learning. So, the thinking goes, negotiators might agree to set them aside and repeal the Medicaid MOE requirements [on states] instead. So much easier to compromise when the cuts would harm only low-income people.”
The story is the same for WIC, where the Republican-controlled House voted recently to cut funding from $6.7B to $6B, a difference of $733 million affecting 300,000 to 450,000 eligible low-income women and young children next year. This difference seems especially significant since Eric Cantor recently walked out of talks on raising the debt limit because of a suggestion that tax deductions might be removed for corporate jets. The Rachel Maddow Show (June 29, 2011) quotes a statement issued by Eric Cantor's office that says “the corporate jet loophole that he was talking about only amounts to about $2 billion.” (The actual amount is $3 billion, but really—who's counting?) Even two billion is almost three times the amount that they wanted to cut from WIC. And yet they felt comfortable referring to it as “only” two billion.
Incredibly, if the Republican leadership is to be taken seriously, the US doesn't have $733M to help hundreds of thousands of low-income women and children, but we have three times that much to subsidize rich corporate executives flying around in style. Well, if the Republicans want us to believe money is speech, I guess we can hear loud and clear what they're saying about their priorities for caring about the already-born.
Republicans seem really to believe that we are not all in this together. Their behavior suggests they see the US as a sinking ship, in which they are rightly engaged in a kind of lifeboat ethics, deciding who will be saved and who are the acceptable casualties. For them there are just too many people for us all to fit in the lifeboat, and yet never too many people to ever think that any pregnancy should ever not be carried to term.
Republicans are willing to incorporate as a matter of stipulated fact in the laws they write that aborted human fetuses would, if only they were allowed to be carried to term, significantly contribute to the prosperity and continuation of this state. And yet, they're not willing to give the same benefit of the doubt to actual, real, already-born people. The entire premise for their not thinking we're able to afford universal health care, for example, is that there is a large base of our population who cannot be relied upon to be pull their own weight economically. Am I the only one who sees a fundamental inconsistency in these two views?
If you got value from this post, please "rate" it.