Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Watch out, ladies, the government is coming after your reproductive rights.
Election victories by a raft of self-proclaimed “small government” Republicans mean that Big Brother is on the warpath against women’s autonomy. We’ve seen this before, but this time it’s a true onslaught. In Florida alone there have been at least 20 abortion-related bills filed. The state’s 1 million unemployed will just have to wait while the legislature attends to the serious business of forcing women seeking an abortion to have an unnecessary ultrasound.
This year, Republican politicians see their best opportunity since 1973 to insinuate themselves between women and their doctors. GOP control of more statehouses and governorships has coincided with a U.S. Supreme Court primed by Bush-era appointees to slice and dice Roe vs. Wade.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have yet to explicitly call for Roe’s demise, like their colleagues Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have, but, at the very least, they’re willing to see Roe erode into insignificance. Meanwhile, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote doesn’t sway very far in the direction of abortion rights.
In 2007, Kennedy upheld a federal law that banned so-called “partial birth” abortions, even though it failed to include an exception to protect the woman’s health. Kennedy’s majority opinion included a paternalistic lament for women getting this kind of abortion who “come to regret their choice to abort.”
In other words, the courts will allow Congress and state legislatures to swoop in to protect women from their own impulsive and uninformed decisions on abortion — as if women choose abortion like they choose new shoes.
Kennedy’s position has invited an anti-choice tsunami of new abortion limits. The true purpose of these measures is to delay abortions and make them more expensive, but they are dressed up to look like they’re just giving women more information and more time to think about it.
In South Dakota, the governor just signed into law a three-day waiting period — the longest in the nation — between the time a woman has her initial clinic visit and the procedure. It also forces women to visit pregnancy-counseling centers where they’ll be harangued by abortion opponents.
Florida’s proposed “Woman’s Right to Know Act” would force women to have, and pay for, an ultrasound before an abortion. Other states have already adopted this burdensome rule. Also moving along in Florida’s overwhelmingly Republican legislature is a bill that requires physicians to inform women seeking abortions after 22 weeks about fetal pain. Other states have passed or are considering measures that bar abortions on these grounds.
But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says no legitimate evidence exists that proves fetuses feel pain that early. The organization contends that certain hormones must be present for a fetus to feel pain, but these don’t appear until after the start of the third trimester at 24 weeks.
All this makes for stellar politics by the GOP base, but there are tragic real-life consequences for women. Like the case of Nebraska resident Danielle Deaver, who was told at 22 weeks of pregnancy that the fetus she was carrying had virtually no chance of survival. Too bad for Deaver that just a couple of months earlier Nebraska instituted a new law barring most abortions after 20 weeks on the “fetal pain” theory. That’s when Deaver officially passed from sovereign person to state-conscripted womb. She was forced to continue with the doomed pregnancy and gave birth a week or so later to a 1-pound, 10-ounce baby that died within minutes.
What’s clear is that Republicans are willing to abandon every other principle they claim in order to actively erode abortion rights. They will tell doctors what to do, force expensive and unnecessary regulations on small-business abortion clinics, require women to get medical tests they don’t need or want, and restrict the ability of private insurance companies to offer abortion coverage.
It all points to one thing: Republicans view women as incubators first, autonomous beings second. And they’re on the cusp of making this the law of the land wherever they hold sway.
Robyn Blumner is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times.
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