Saturday, January 21, 2023

A Different Story in Europe

In the Real Time "Overtime" segment on January 20, Bill Maher was joined by author and blogger Andrew Sullivan, former Attorney General Bill Barr, and US Representative Nancy Mace, Republican from South Carolina. Mace made an interesting remark, at the 13:04 mark of the discussion but in fairness to her and the need for context, I began at 11:46 when the congresswoman remarked

You know, when Roe vs. Wade was overturned, we just turned our backs on women across the country and that's an issue. I was raped at the age of 16 and something I've been very passionate about. I'm pro-life but I also see that we got to find middle ground and with Americans about 89% of people are in the middle and we've got to protect women's rights and the right to life and there's a way to work together on many of these issues.

It's difficult to determine how Mace got the notion that nearly 9 of 10 Americans are "in the middle" on abortion rights. Soon after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Forbes noted that an Ipsos poll in May 2021 found "66/% of Americans believe abortion should be permitted in at least some circumstances." Assuming the poll's accuracy, nearly 34% of individuals opposes abortion in all circumstances, and at least a few of that 66% no doubt supports a right to the procedure in any circumstance. Clearly, something over a third of Americans is nowhere near the middle on abortion. Mace continued 

Cannabis is one other issue. I have a bill called the States Reform Act on that and uh, takes, takes that issue and makes it one way that's bipartisan that Republicans and Democrats can get on. Republicans have been on the wrong side of cannabis. We've been on the wrong side of Roe vs. Wade. We- on birth control and gay marriage and all these issues that are important. Environmental issues.

I can't argue with the congresswoman on the GOP being on the wrong side of Roe vs. Wade. However, when Maher asked her what she would support regarding abortion, Mace responded

Well, I think gestational limits should be part of that conversation. In Europe, if you're even allowed to have one, it's twelve to fifteen weeks on average. That would be where you would....

That simplifies and misrepresents the state of the law and the practical reality of abortion in Europe.  In an opinion piece in The Washington Post in September, Leah Hoctor explained

Apart from the very few European nations that retain highly restrictive laws on abortion — Andorra, Lichtenstein, Malta, Monaco and Poland — no other European country “bans” abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Instead, almost all European countries allow abortion throughout pregnancy on a range of grounds, including where there are risks to a patient’s physical or mental health, and in situations involving severe or fatal fetal impairment.

Elective abortion is only one of the grounds on which abortion is legal in most of Europe, and time limits for this differ per country. When these time limits end, abortion almost always remains legal for a much longer period on other grounds, such as broadly framed socioeconomic or health grounds, or grounds of severe or fatal fetal impairment.

In support of calls for a 15-week ban on abortion — with carve-outs merely for highly restrictive exceptions, extending only to situations of physical risk to a patient’s life and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest — U.S. lawmakers referred to six European countries in particular (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway and Spain) and falsely stated that such a ban in the United States would be similar to policies in these nations.

Although these countries set a first-trimester time frame for elective abortion, they all allow abortion thereafter on other grounds. For example, laws in Denmark and Norway allow abortion for social, economic or family reasons until fetal viability (the definition of which is not specified). German law allows abortion on grounds of serious risk to health throughout pregnancy, explicitly noting that this covers both physical and mental health.

Moreover, unlike in the United States, many of these countries include abortion under national health insurance policies, as do most other Northern and Western European countries, meaning that patients do not have to finance the costs of abortion care themselves.

Even more problematic is the underlying assertion that new bans and restrictions on access to abortion dovetail with a European approach to abortion. This is highly disingenuous.

The fact is that most European countries are moving to expand access to abortion, not limit it. In the majority of countries, European lawmakers have moved steadily forward for decades on the issue of access to abortion. They have removed bans, increased abortion’s legality and taken steps to ensure laws and policies on abortion are guided by public health evidence and clinical best practices.

Honestly or not, Nancy Mace tries to portray herself as "in the middle" on several issues, a loyal Republican but not at odds with the 21st century, a potential darling of the mainstream media.  She doesn't stimulate the erogenous zones of the Republican base but, if she continues to be dishonest about abortion, she may sometime emerge beyond the First Congressional District of South Carolina.


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