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Apr 18, 2010
Nebraska’s Governor, Dave Heineman, recently signed into law two anti-abortion bills, which are scheduled to take effect on October 15th. You know, it may be more appropriate to say that Nebraska’s Governor, Dave Heineman, recently smacked women in the face. (And yes, I mean all women, not just women who live in Nebraska.)
The first bill, LB1103, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act,” makes abortions after 20 weeks illegal. This makes Nebraska the first state to put such an early time restriction on abortion. They are basing the 20 weeks mark on the concept of “fetal pain,”…even though,according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (and they ought to know!) there is no credible scientific evidence that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks.
"There is certainly no solid scientific evidence establishing that a fetus can perceive pain at these earlier stages, so any court decisions to uphold such broader laws could only do so by disregarding the importance of good scientific evidence," said Caitlin Borgmann, a law professor at The City University of New York.
For this reason (among others) all other states draw the line of criminalizing abortion at the point of viability instead, that is, at the point where the fetus could survive outside the womb (which, at the most conservative, is 22 weeks). The exception to the “point of viability” rule is in cases where it is determined that the fetus will be unable to survive outside the womb at all or would only live for a few days, and/or has an extremely debilitating condition. There is also an exception if the life of the mother is in danger. LB1103 would only make exception for the life of the mother.
The second bill, LB 594, is what I find even more insulting. This is what I see as the real smack in the face. The law states that women wanting to get an abortion must have their physical and mental state examined before being granted an abortion. What the ****?! They say that they want women to be aware of the various physical and/or mental ailments that they might experience as a result of the abortion, which is a poor motive in and of itself because of all of the completely baseless lies and exaggerations that women are told to discourage them from getting an abortion. They say they want to make sure that women aren’t getting abortions because they were “pressured into it,”- also a poor motive because it assumes that women are malleable enough to be talked into aborting a pregnancy when what they really want to do is have a baby.
But the worst assumption that they make is that if you want to get an abortion there must be something mentally wrong with you, or you must have an (unbeknownst) physical disability so severe (or the potential to have one after the effects of an abortion) that would make you unable to have a child. What the ****! First of all, just because a woman chooses to have an abortion, that does not mean that she needs a psychological evaluation! She’s not crazy just because she doesn’t want to be pregnant. What a slap in the face this is! Damn!
Secondly, aren’t they suggesting that if their “evaluation” shows that you would be adversely effected, physically or mentally, from having an abortion, or that your current mental state was unstable enough as it is- that you are exactly the kind of woman who should be having children? What? An abortion would be a bad idea for your mental well-being, but raising a child should be a walk in the park? What? They care about your mothering ability and stability while the fetus is in your womb, but not after it’s born? Color me unsurprised but extremely pissed off.
From my understanding of what I’ve read about these new laws (some of which has been a little confusing) I don’t think that the new law would require that a woman be denied an abortion if she “fails” the evaluation, but she will be read a laundry list of largely bogus risk factors. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a woman to be sad or have some physical complication from having an abortion, but the anti-choice militia has greatly exaggerated and, in many cases, completely made up a long list of risk factors meant only to scare women into disregarding their own intelligence. Unless this law is changed, it will be law in Nebraska to scare women out of getting an abortion by lying to them!
Here is some more information and some proof that I’m not exaggerating or over-reacting.
First, some background facts about Nebraska, gathered from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
NARAL gives Nebraska an F on issues of choice. Here’s why:
97% of Nebraska counties have no abortion provider.
Nebraska has a criminal ban on abortion.
Nebraska law subjects women seeking abortion services to biased-counseling requirements and mandatory delays.
Nebraska prohibits certain state employees and organizations receiving state funds from counseling or referring women for abortion services.
Nebraska restricts insurance coverage of abortion.
Nebraska law includes a strongly anti-choice policy statement.
Nebraska allows certain individuals or entities to refuse to provide women specific reproductive-health services, information, or referrals.
Nebraska restricts low-income women’s access to abortion.
Nebraska law restricts young women’s access to abortion services by mandating parental notice.
Nebraska prohibits certain qualified health-care professionals from providing abortion care.
Nebraska ranks last among all 50 states and the District of Columbia in efforts to help women avoid unintended pregnancies.
But all that wasn’t restrictive enough for Nebraska. So what was it that pushed them to take this next step? Why did they feel that their current anti-abortion laws and policies weren’t enough? As Emily Ingram reports for ABC News…
“Nebraska is fastly becoming the mid-America late-term [abortion] capital."
Mary Spaulding Balch, a lobbyist for the anti-abortion group National Right to Life, during a press conference before the committee hearing.
If that’s how they feel…what made them feel that way? What would make them think that?
It has become crystal clear that these two new laws were largely prompted by an interest in stopping Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s few providers of late-term abortions, and a resident of Nebraska himself.
From the Omaha World-Herald:
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk said he introduced LB 1103 to stop Carhart from doing more late-term abortions at his Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska after the murder of a Kansas late-term abortion provider.
Want another quote? This one is from Julie Schmit-Albin, the Executive Director of Nebraska Right to Life, speaking at a press conference about the motivation behind passing the bills.
“He had a burden when he heard LeRoy Carhart last summer, upon the death of George Tiller, when he heard LeRoy Carhart talk about how he wanted to make Nebraska the late-term abortion capital of the Midwest. And Speaker Flood took up that gauntlet and it has resulted in the passage of LB 1103.”
The abortion capital of the Midwest? Really? Although, you know, when there are only four or so late-term abortion providers left in the country, isn’t it hard to have each one not be the “capital” in their area? Don’t they know that they wouldn’t be the “capital” if there were more providers across the country? If they’re worried about being “the capital” shouldn’t they be encouraging more doctors to perform the procedure in other areas around the country so that fewer women would have to come to Nebraska for abortions?
You might be wondering what Dr. Carhart’s reaction to all of this has been. Here ishis statement on the passage of the bills, courtesy of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
"I am extremely saddened that my state has passed two laws that seriously jeopardize women’s health under the awful pretense of protecting them. Under one law, even a woman who has been hospitalized and diagnosed suicidal or a young girl who has been raped, even raped by a close family member, would not be able to obtain an abortion after 20-weeks of pregnancy. A second law would put any questionable medical study that has ever been published above a doctor’s informed medical judgment and expertise.
"These laws will make it harder for patients to get an abortion when they really need them, when they are under the most desperate of circumstances and even when they are clearly medically, morally and religiously justified. This latest anti- woman and anti-health legislation merely strengthens my commitment to fight for women’s reproductive health and rights."
My favorite part of that statement is the last line because I think he is absolutely right. Being a pro-choice advocate/activist is often frustrating, but we cannot let that frustration and the setbacks we face stop us from fighting for what we believe in. We have valid beliefs, and we shouldn’t apologize for them. We have the right to trust women.
The problems with these laws, though, go beyond being utterly insulting to and dismissive of women and their rights. A lot of people have been talking about the unconstitutionality of these new laws, and the intention of those who passed it to bring the issue of choice back to the United States Supreme Court.
The Center for Reproductive Rights had this to say about theunconstitutionality of the screening law, LB 594.
Both bills suffer from serious constitutional flaws. Among them, the abortion pre-screening bill imposes requirements that doctors cannot possibly comply with. A doctor has to screen for risk factors for post-abortion complications based on an almost limitless range of information published in peer-reviewed journals. It is quite common for studies to reach contested, ambiguous or incomplete conclusions. This bill fails to give doctors any guidance about how to evaluate which studies or findings must be included in their screenings. The U.S. Constitution requires that laws adequately describe the conduct that is prohibited so that people who must follow the law and those that enforce the law can understand their obligations.
Nancy Northup, the President of the Center for Reproductive Rights, describes what these laws mean for a Constitutional challenge…
“It absolutely cannot survive a challenge without a change to three decades of court rulings.”
…and how the effects of these laws compare to previous anti-abortion laws…
“Courts have been chipping away at abortion rights…this would be like taking a huge hacksaw to the rights.”
What’s the deal, here? WHY is this happening? Why is Nebraska so afraid of Dr. Carhart? Why is Nebraska so afraid of women being able to choose and have access to an abortion? Why are they legally condoning the “heads in the sand” approach to reproductive health and rights? People are and will continue to suffer because of their actions- because they were and are too afraid to confront the realities that women face.
Julie Burkhart, in an article for RH Reality Check, writes about the need that Nebraskans have for accessible abortion services, and uses this story to demonstrate the real consequences that these laws would have.
Take Tim Mosher, who testified before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee this past February at the request of Trust Women PAC. Tim and his wife, Dawn, learned at 20 weeks that their baby was suffering from the most severe level of untreatable Spina Bifida. After consulting with medical experts and their families, they decided, in Tim’s words, that, “We couldn’t force our little girl to live in constant pain and suffering before dying a pre-mature death.” But under LB 1103, if the woman’s life isn’t in danger — one of the few health exceptions in the bill — parents who find themselves in the same situation as Tim and Dawn in the future will be forced to carry these painful, ultimately fatal pregnancies to term.
By passing these bills, Nebraska has shown that they don’t give a **** about Tim and Dawn Mosher or their baby girl. What Nebraska doesn’t understand is that late-term abortions are not merciless…they are merciful. Think about it! Why would you want a mother and father to prolong their suffering of knowing that their baby will die soon after it’s born? Or if the fetus won’t live long enough within the womb to have a live birth? Think about this: For a couple who wants to have a baby, a miscarriage can be incredibly difficult to deal with. So why, if you know the baby won’t be able to survive, would you want to prolong that couple’s suffering?
Amanda Marcotte, also of RH Reality Check, offers an incredibly interesting answer: Misogyny.
What’s interesting is about the anti-choice focus on late abortions is that it really shows how intellectually bankrupt the anti-abortion rights position is. […] By focusing on late abortion, anti-choicers demonstrate two major contradictions between their stated point of view and their actual point of view.
“Life begins at conception.” The major anti-abortion rights argument has always been that a fertilized egg has the same moral worth as a 5-year-old child, and that abortion is therefore murder. By that measure, an abortion at 8 weeks is the same kind of evil as an abortion at 25 weeks. So why focus more on the latter? Why spend more time trying to restrict the latter, or drawing attention to it? Why focus on doctors who provide late abortions, if they aren’t any morally different than those who perform early abortions?
It’s almost as if anti-choicers agree with the pro-choice view that there’s a difference between a fertilized egg, a fetus later in pregnancy (since most pro- choicers support some restrictions on later abortion), and a baby. Anti-choicers can’t have it both ways. Either a fertilized egg is a person or it’s not. If you think later abortion is worse than early abortion, you admit that you don’t really think early abortions are the same as infanticide.
“We’re ‘pro-life’!” The official anti-choice argument is that they’re not against women, they’re just "for life." But if that’s true, then abortion becomes more understandable if someone’s life is threatened by the pregnancy, or the fetus has defects incompatible with life. In other words, if you’re “pro-life,” late abortions that are all, by law, medically indicated would ostensibly be more defensible than an early abortion done because the woman simply does not want to become a mother.
To be intellectually consistent with both the argument that a fertilized egg is the same as a baby and that this is about life—and not about controlling and punishing female sexuality—the anti-choice movement should work to secure the right of women to obtain medically necessary late abortions.
The anti-choice approach on late abortions is consistent with one viewpoint: the misogynist one. Let’s assume for a moment that the motivation behind anti- choice activism is not a love of life or a belief that a fertilized egg is the same thing as a baby. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, they’re motivated by a belief that the main role of women in this world is to be baby machines, and that women should mindlessly reproduce even if it kills them. Is this viewpoint consistent with the focus on late abortion?
Absolutely! If this is how you feel, you’d be extremely interested in portraying women as callous, stupid, and mercurial, then you’d be all about portraying late abortion as something that happens because stupid, heartless, fickle women change their minds 6 months into a pregnancy. You wouldn’t be interested in the truth about the medical indications that lead to late abortions, because in your mind, if they can’t have babies, they should die trying.
Considering that the most intellectually consistent reason for anti-choice obsession with the relatively rare procedure of late abortion is misogyny, the willingness to draw energy from terrorist actions like Scott Roeder’s murder of Dr. Tiller makes more sense.
I am becoming quite a fan of Amanda Marcotte. But I will wrap up this blog with the work of a woman I am a huge fan of and have an immense respect for- Rachel Maddow.
Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, has done an excellent job covering issues of choice. She dedicated several segments of her show last year and this year to the murder of Dr. George Tiller and to the trial and sentencing of his murderer, Scott Roeder, whom she unapologetically refers to as a domestic terrorist.
On Thursday night, Rachel reported on Nebraska’s two new anti-abortion laws. Onthe show’s website, they title this segment “Nebraska targets doctor with bill,” and describe the clip using these words:
Tracey Weitz, a director at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, talks with Rachel Maddow about a new law in Nebraska based on bogus science, meant to block legal abortions.
A link to the video of the segment is below, but if you are unable to view it now, here part of what she says:
“In the wake of the terrorism that took George Tiller’s life, there are a couple of ways that elected officials could have reacted. One way would be to recognize the real threat faced by these doctors who are providing a legal service in the United States and take steps to support them and protect them. Another approach would be to join in the attack from the legislative side.”
“How did Nebraska’s elected officials react to the targeting like that of one of their constituents, after another doctor who did the same thing had been murdered in Kansas? How did they react to a doctor regularly getting death threats for doing his job- a job that is legal under American law? Nebraska politicians changed the law.”
Rachel is then joined by Professor Tracey Weitz and asks about the exact point/concern that I mentioned earlier:
Rachel Maddow: “The other law that Governor Heineman signed into law yesterday, he did it at the same signing ceremony, mandates that doctors sort of extensively mentally screen women who come for abortion services. I don’t, I have to admit I don’t understand it. As far as I read it, I feel like their allegation here is that women have abortions because they’re crazy. Is that the implication that they’re making here?
Tracey Weitz: “Well, I think there’s two things. Like the fetal pain bill, this is an extensive misuse of science. This bill says that doctors need to inform women of any characteristic- that may be a demographic characteristic, that may be a social characteristic, that may be a health condition, that may be a mental health condition- that is then shown to be associated with a problem after abortion. It’s a long list of things. People don’t know what it means. But it’s clearly meant to say to women: If you have any kind of health condition, you need to know that you might suffer poorly after an abortion. Something that, again, science doesn’t support.
Click on the image to view the video.
I guess that all there’s left to say is: What are your thoughts? How do these new laws make you feel? What are you going to do about it?