Monday, June 30, 2014

Safe, Legal, And Rare And Hillary

Cruising the Internet (which once was called "surfing the Net," but I never learned to surf or to like the Beach Boys), one alights upon columns of the recent past revealed as stunningly foolish given more recent developments.  And so it was that on September 5, 2012, liberal Margaret Carlson- while slamming Republicans- lamented that Democrats had removed from their national platform the phrase "safe, legal, and rare."

Carlson noted "for some" of the members of the Christian right, "abortion is the only political issue that matters (and) there are zealots who justify killing doctors."  Yet, she also has bought the myth "the Christian Right was forged when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973." But as Amanda Marcotte explained, upon summarizing a Politico magazine article by Dartmouth University professor Randall Balmer,

feelings about Roe v. Wade were mixed in the conservative Christian community in the early 1970s, with quite a few evangelical leaders agreeing with the court that abortion is a private matter. Desegregation, however, was a different issue altogether. Anger about forced desegregation of private schools galvanized conservative Christians. Bob Jones University stalled and resisted admitting black students, forcing the IRS to strip its tax exempt status in 1976, an event that spurred evangelical leaders to action. Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich, two conservative activists who had been seeking a way to marshal evangelicals into a Republican voting bloc, pounced. Balmer writes:

Weyrich saw that he had the beginnings of a conservative political movement, which is why, several years into President Jimmy Carter’s term, he and other leaders of the nascent religious right blamed the Democratic president for the IRS actions against segregated schools—even though the policy was mandated by Nixon, and Bob Jones University had lost its tax exemption a year and a day before Carter was inaugurated as president. Falwell, Weyrich and others were undeterred by the niceties of facts. In their determination to elect a conservative, they would do anything to deny a Democrat, even a fellow evangelical like Carter, another term in the White House.

The argument they used to defend school segregation will sound familiar to anyone following the lawsuits against mandatory contraception coverage in health insurance plans or the battles over whether businesses have a right to refuse gay customers: "religious freedom."

Carlson claimed

Medical science is galloping ahead of Roe. When the case was decided, we barely had sonograms and it was a miracle for a 22-week-old fetus to survive. The difference now between a pregnancy at 12 weeks and one at 22 is life itself. Walk into any neonatal unit and you’ll see newborns weighing 2 pounds; they’ll be playing basketball one day.

Medical science simply is not "galloping ahead of Roe," though surely some 22 year old fetuses one day will be playing basketball- or, for that matter, be an engineer, scientist, social worker, or something else productive.  (Why "playing basketball one day?")  Although there is a difference between a pregnancy at 12 weeks and one at 22, these changes come about in a fetus usually only after 22 weeks: fetal pain; functioning of the lungs; wiring of the cerebral cortex; resemblance of the cell structure to a newborn baby;  breathing.

But one other myth Carlson believed is particularly relevant to last week's decision from the High Court on reproductive rights. She asked

Why has the party removed the sentence “Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare” from its platform? It was in the 2004 document but not in 2008’s or this year’s. Can’t Democrats just throw a crumb to the many millions who are pro-choice but not pro-abortion?

Efforts made in many states to make abortion rare, however, render nearly moot its status as legal in some of those jurisdictions, making a farce of any sense of reproductive freedom.  As the charts (from FiveThirtyEight) below indicate, states have, respectively, mandated waiting periods; counseling including the debunked linkage of mental health impairment and/or breast cancer with undergoing an abortion; gestational limits on abortion; parental consent; structural standards equivalent to those for surgical centers; abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges; an ultrasound prior to the procedure.

The women of Texas may suffer most from restrictions imposed by a state.  In 2011, there were a reported 44 locations in which a woman in the Lone Star state could obtain an abortion.  After the law which State Senator (and now Democratic gubernatorial nominee) Wendy Davis unsuccessfully fought is fully implemented in September, there are expected to be six (6).

That is all the more reason the presumptive Democratic 2016 presidential nominee ought to be asked if she approves of the Supreme Court's decision in McCullen v. Coakley, which struck down the buffer zones implemented by the State of Massachusetts.  Further, she might be queried whether she agrees with the ex-President who twenty years ago said "abortion should not only be safe and legal, it should be rare." As Aimee Thorne-Thomsen observed four years ago

We say that we trust women. We say we will not use them and their experiences as pawns in a political game. We say we care about women and want them to have access to all the information, services and resources necessary to make the best decisions they can for themselves and their families. That is at the core of reproductive justice. Not reducing the number of abortions. Safe – yes. Legal– absolutely. Rare – not the point.

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