SCOTUS Really Might Overturn Roe This Time

The SCOTUS announced today it will hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case about a Mississippi law that outlaws elective abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation. There is real concern that this could be the Big One that overturns Roe v. Wade, mostly because now that Amy Comey Barrett is on the court, the conservatives don’t need Chief Justice John Roberts’s vote to make a majority.

It’s also the case that the law being challenged in Dobbs is more straighforward than some of the recent laws the court failed to overturn (mostly because of Roberts). For example, last year the Court failed to overturn a Louisiana law that applied burdensome regulations to abortion providers to discourage them from performing abortions. Roberts voted with the liberals on that one.

But Dobbs simply puts a gestational limit on elective abortion at 15 weeks. The Roe v. Wade guidelines allow states to ban elective abortions, but not before the gestational age at which a fetus might be viable (then as now, 23 weeks). After that, the states must provide exceptions for “life and health of the mother,” and physicians had some discretion about what that meant.

There is a little fudging in the medical literature about the 23-week threshold for viability, but 15 weeks is way outside fudging range. As I understand it, if the Court allows the 15-week limit to stand, Roe is overturned. And if Roe is overturned, a whole lot of states will ban all or most abortions overnight. It may be that the justices could uphold the 15-week ban but include language in their decisions that salvages some parts of Roe, but I wouldn’t expect them to do that.

I personally think this comes under the heading of “be careful what you wish for.” The most recent polls I could find found a significant majority, about two-thirds, of Americans support Roe. Multiple polls have found the percentage of Americans who want abortion outlawed in all or nearly all circumstances to be in the neighborhood of 24 to 27 percent. Abortion has been an effective wedge issue for Republicans because those against it are really against it; they are strong single-issue voters. The rest of the electorate has other priorities.

But Republicans might be setting themselves up for a significant national backlash if Roe is overturned. Maybe that’s what it’s going to take to get some peace on this issue — let the fanatics have their way and let them get slapped down for it.

Some states may accept an abortion ban for a while, but we’ve seen in other places that banning abortions opens many cans of worms that the fanatics haven’t thought out. The Mississippi law makes exceptions for post-15 week abortions for “medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality,” but people are going to disagree about what constitutes an emergency and which fetal abnormalities are severe enough. If any. States that ban abortions will soon find themselves dealing with a black market in abortion pills and the return of back-alley abortionists.

It has to be said that there are some civilized nations that have banned elective abortions even earlier, at twelve weeks’ gestation. But in most of those same countries (for example, Denmark) women can get their elective first-trimester abortions free of charge, courtesy of the public health system, and without any hassles. It works for Denmark.

See also: Do see Dear White Christian Pro-Life Friends, a series of open letters by Brian D. McLaren, who identifies himself as a pastor and “public theologian.” He does a masterful job of summing up the recent history of the anti-abortion movement and its effects. Worth reading. See also Abortion Law: Why Cruelty Is the Point from May 2019.

The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021
Seated from left to right: Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor
Standing from left to right: Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.
Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

How Democrats Need to Talk About Abortion

Jonathan Capehart praised Pete Buttigieg’s Fox News appearance (which I didn’t see), and in particular praised Buttigieg’s answer to an abortion question.

“Do you believe at any point in pregnancy,” Wallace asked, “whether it’s at six weeks or eight weeks or 24 weeks or whatever, that there should be any limit on a woman’s right to have an abortion?” The back-and-forth between Buttigieg and Wallace was instructive, especially the mayor’s initial response.

This part is a transcript of the Fox conversation:

Buttigieg: I think the dialogue has gotten so caught up on where you draw the line that we’ve gotten away from the fundamental question of who gets to draw the line, and I trust women to draw the line when it’s their own health.

Wallace: So just to be clear, you’re saying that you would be okay with a woman, well into the third trimester, deciding to abort her pregnancy.

Buttigieg: Look, these hypotheticals are usually set up in order to provoke a strong emotional—

Wallace: It’s not hypothetical, there are 6,000 women a year who get abortions in the third trimester.

Buttigieg: That’s right, representing less than 1 percent of cases. So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a woman in that situation. If it’s that late in your pregnancy, then it’s almost by definition, you’ve been expecting to carry it to term. We’re talking about women who have perhaps chosen a name. Women who have purchased a crib, families that then get the most devastating medical news of their lifetime, something about the health or the life of the mother that forces them to make an impossible, unthinkable choice. And the bottom line is, as horrible as that choice is, that woman, that family may seek spiritual guidance, they may seek medical guidance, but that decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made.

I’ve seen worse answers, but I’m still not satisfied with that. Here is what (I would like to think) I would have said.

(Hypothetical conversation follows.)

Wallace: Do you believe at any point in pregnancy, whether it’s at six weeks or eight weeks or 24 weeks or whatever, that there should be any limit on a woman’s right to have an abortion?

Me: I support the Roe v. Wade guidelines that have been the law of the land for 46 years. That decision protects a right to abortion for any reason until the fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb, which medical science tells us is at about 23 weeks’ gestation, or late second trimester. The Roe decision said that states may restrict abortions after that point except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

So when people opposed to abortion create these fantasy scenarios in which women close to term waltz into an abortion clinic to end the pregnancy and destroy the fetus for no good reason, they are talking about something that already is illegal and isn’t happening in the real world. Let’s talk about what is happening in the real world.

Wallace: There are 6,000 women a year who get abortions in the third trimester.

Me: That’s right, representing less than 1 percent of cases. So let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a woman in that situation  (etc.; the rest of Buttigieg’s answer was okay).

(End hypothetical conversation.)

Why is it so hard to actually explain what the law is now? Why don’t people do that? Nobody, not even NARAL, is fighting for elective abortion in the third trimester. Why is it somehow forbidden to say that?

The most recent polling on Roe. v. Wade (from April 2019) says that 65 percent of adults nationwide support Roe v. Wade and don’t want it overturned, as opposed to 32 percent who want it overturned. That’s a healthy majority.  Stand with Roe v. Wade. Why do we allow ourselves to be put on defense?

See Paul Waldman, On abortion rights, time for Democrats to go on offense. See also Why I Don’t Give Money to NARAL.

Abortion Law: Why Cruelty Is the Point

The current epidemic of medieval abortion laws being passed by state legislatures has inspired a lot of people to explain why such laws are cruel. See, for example, Rape victim who had illegal abortion at age 13 calls Alabama’s law ‘an abomination’ at USA Today. I support anyone who speaks out about such painful experience. But as gut wrenching as these stories are, they won’t change the minds of people who support abortion bans.

Yes, the bans are cruel. The cruelty is the point.

Let’s step back and look at where this anti-abortion fanaticism is coming from.

Abortion wasn’t always the subject of such fanaticism. Until the latter part of the 19th century it was a common thing that may not have been discussed in polite company, but it was openly practiced and few seemed to care. Under English common law adopted in the states, abortion was not illegal until “quickening,” or the point in pregnancy at which fetal movement could be felt, which is at about 15 weeks’ gestation, give or take. And abortion was mostly considered women’s business, unimportant to men.

But in the 19th century male physicians began to take over childbirth, which previously had been tended by midwives, and thus pregnancy met the patriarchy.

The [American Medical] association’s efforts were led by Horatio Storer, an obstetrician often called the father of American gynecology. Storer didn’t want the medical profession to be associated with abortion, and considered women’s desire to terminate their pregnancies to be tantamount to insanity. He felt that a woman’s biological role was to be a wife and mother, and that to disrupt that path was not just to commit a social crime, but murder.

“We are the physical guardians of women,” read the group’s 1859 report on what it called “criminal abortion.” “The case is here of life or death—and it depends, almost wholly, upon ourselves.”

The group made a concerted effort to delegitimize the work of the women who previously held the majority of knowledge about childbirth and pregnancy, and to prevent women from becoming obstetricians.

Storer was also keenly interested in making sure “civilization” was spread in the West by white Americans.

 “Shall” these regions, he asked, “be filled by our own children or by those of aliens? This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.” Hostility to immigrants, Catholics, and people of color fueled this campaign to criminalize abortion. White male patriotism demanded that maternity be enforced among white Protestant women. … Regular medical men had entered the debate about sexual politics by attacking the female practice of abortion as immoral, unwomanly, and unpatriotic.

You get the picture. By the 1870s a handful of states had banned all abortions, and by 1910 or so abortion was illegal in all states. Of course, that didn’t mean abortions weren’t being performed.

Making abortion illegal never meant abortion didn’t happen. For the entire century of criminalized abortion, women of every class, marital status, religion and race still obtained them. Before Roe, hospitals had entire wards for patients experiencing sepsis after shoddy or self-­induced abortions. Chicago’s Cook County Hospital had 5,000 patients annually in the abortion ward — women who were bleeding, infected and sometimes dying.

The push to decriminalize abortion began in the 1950s. By the 1960s, the legislatures of several states were under pressure to change the law. In anti-abortion folklore it’s said that no one was arguing about abortion before Roe v. Wade was decided, but that’s nonsense; it was heating up as a source of contention even as we were all at each other’s throats over Vietnam. In 1967 California passed a law that allowed “therapeutic” abortions when a pregnancy endangered a woman’s life. In 1970 first Hawaii, and then New York, decriminalized elective abortion. And then, of course, Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

When Roe v. Wade was decided the Catholic Church already was opposed to abortion, although it hadn’t always been. But in 1973 abortion wasn’t a big issue among conservative Protestants and Evangelicals

In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

In brief, the same right-wing whackjobs who had opposed desegregation finally realized they had lost, so they seized on criminalizing abortion as their new holy cause.

Please also see How abortion unified Catholics and evangelicals to become a power on the right. This describes a debate in the California legislature in 1967:

Back then, many abortion opponents were Catholic Democrats, while many conservative Republican Protestants wanted nothing to do with the issue, viewing it as the province of Catholics, their theological adversaries.

Despite Beilenson’s plea, the Catholic Church fought hard against the bill, which would allow abortions when the pregnancy endangered the life or health of the woman or if she was the victim of rape or incest. Cardinal James McIntyre compared it to Herod ordering the slaughter of “Holy Innocents” in Bethlehem. But the legislature passed the landmark bill, which was then signed into law by the new governor, Ronald Reagan. Within a few years, some 20 states would follow.

The evangelicals’ ambivalence on abortion, an issue they now consider to be at the sacred heart of their morality, is striking. Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical professor who later became a major anti-abortion activist, at first refused to get involved. After his son, Frank, pushed him to join the anti-abortion movement, Schaeffer exasperatedly blurted out, “They’re Catholics!”

“How can you say you believe in the uniqueness of every human being if you won’t stand up on this?” the son yelled.

“I don’t want to be identified with some Catholic issue. I’m not putting my reputation on the line for them!” Francis shouted back.

But right-wing political operatives succeeded in getting conservative evangelicals and Catholics to form a political coalition around the abortion issue to help win the elections of right-wing Republican politicians. And that coalition is still a powerful force in today’s political landscape. Indeed, the evangelicals appear to have become even more fanatical than most Catholics in opposing abortion, which has brought them to the ignominy of being Donald Trump’s strongest base of support. Because, literally, nothing else matters to many of them them but stopping abortion. They have become full-bore, barking mad fanatics about it.

You’d think Jesus would have said something about abortion if it were that important to Christianity, but it doesn’t appear that he did. And yes, there were abortions in those days, too.

The Roots of Fanaticism

So now let us step back and consider where this newfangled anti-abortion fanaticism is coming from. There are many comments today on social media about “Talibama” and comparing the Alabama abortion bill to Sharia law. In truth, all reactionary religious conservatism, whether you call it “fundamentalist” or “extremist,” ends up looking pretty much alike. Religious extremists tend to be authoritarian and patriarchal. And they tend to subjugate women and treat them as sexual appliances.

So you see Islamic extremists punishing women for not being properly dressed in burquas, and we see right-wing polygamist sects in the U.S. keeping women in long, modest “pioneer” dresses. There are two purposes here. One is to deprive women of individuality. But the other is to cover any traces of women’s sexuality, which apparently is something religious whackjob men loathe and fear above all things.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Eldorado – Attorney Rod Parker advises a group of FLDS women as they prepare to speak to the media after being separated from their children Monday, April 14, 2008, at the YFZ “Yearning for Zion” Ranch.

The practices of forcing young girls into marriage and keeping women covered up in way too much cloth are common to religious extremist groups of many traditions around the globe. The men in these groups want to use women for sex, but it has to be entirely on their terms. They are too afraid of women to give them any free will or individuality. And yeah, they’re just about the sickest puppies on the planet.

Now, which came first — the sexual pathology or the religion? I’d say it’s some of both, but more the first factor than the second. These men are not afraid of women because they are religious; they cling to authoritarian religion because they are afraid of women. They use religion, or their own cherry-picked version of religion, to justify the fear and ugliness clanking around in their ids.

Now, I don’t believe the male legislators who are passing the abominable abortion laws are marrying little girls or keeping their wives wrapped in sheets, but their difference with the polygamist cult leaders is one of degree rather than kind. They are deeply conflicted about sex, which is why they are so obsessed with writing laws regulating sex. They are deeply insecure about their own sexuality, which is why they need to keep women under control. And they have more in common with most rapists than they’d care to admit. Rape can be an expression of hostility to women. Anti-abortion laws also are an expression of hostility to women, with the added advantage that the perpetrator can feel self-righteous about it.

And if you understand that, you understand why the legislators who write these  women-controlling laws are more interested in punishing abortionists than rapists:

If [Alabama’s] HB 314 is enacted, a first-time offender who is accused of raping, say, an intellectually disabled woman or a 13-year-old girl could potentially serve less prison time than a doctor providing an abortion.

Note that Alabama is also considering a law that would make it a crime to bring a false rape allegation. Now, I’m also opposed to false rape allegations, but rape is difficult to prove, and convictions can be hard to obtain, and a lot of rapists get off. If this bill is passed, a woman who really was raped will be punished if her rapist isn’t convicted, which commonly happens. If this law passes, it’s pretty much telling the women of Alabama that if they are raped, that’s their problem. Don’t bother the criminal justice system about it.

Alabama hasn’t gotten to the point that the woman accuser is stoned to death, but like I said — it’s only a difference of degree.

No wonder the anti-abortion cause became so central to these men’s lives. It feels good. It lets them act out their inner ugliness, without compunction. And too many women go along with it because they are conditioned to submit to the patriarchy and to measure their self-worth by the approval of men.

Cruelty Is the Point

I wrote in 2015 about evangelical support for Donald Trump,

On other words, the extrinsic [religious] orientation is mostly about social and cultural conditioning and group conformity dressed up as piety. … Their religion is not something they keep in their hearts and minds; it’s the uniform they wear. It’s the banner they carry.

That the “religion” some evangelicals manifest may have little to do with the teachings of Jesus shouldn’t take anyone by surprise, because it doesn’t. It’s mostly their culturally induced biases shoved into a Christian (or whatever) package. And an authoritarian figure who promises to smite those they are biased against is just too compelling. Who cares if he doesn’t know Presbyterian from popcorn?

Last October Adam Serwer wrote an essay called “The Cruelty Is the Point.”

The Trump era is such a whirlwind of cruelty that it can be hard to keep track. This week alone, the news broke that the Trump administration was seeking to ethnically cleanse more than 193,000 American children of immigrants whose temporary protected status had been revoked by the administration, that the Department of Homeland Security had lied about creating a database of children that would make it possible to unite them with the families the Trump administration had arbitrarily destroyed, that the White House was considering a blanket ban on visas for Chinese students, and that it would deny visas to the same-sex partners of foreign officials. At a rally in Mississippi, a crowd of Trump supporters cheered as the president mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who has said that Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump has nominated to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, attempted to rape her when she was a teenager. “Lock her up!” they shouted.

Ford testified to the Senate, utilizing her professional expertise to describe the encounter, that one of the parts of the incident she remembered most was Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge laughing at her as Kavanaugh fumbled at her clothing. “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” Ford said, referring to the part of the brain that processes emotion and memory, “the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” And then at Tuesday’s rally, the president made his supporters laugh at her.

Serwer goes on to say that this cruelty, and the group enjoyment of cruelty, is the true basis of Trump’s support. The cruelty is the point. People who feel dissociated from the larger culture can find identity and meaning in Trump and communion with those who are derisive of everyone else. Please see “This Is What Evil Looks Like.”

So don’t expect the anti-abortion legislators  to be sympathetic to the child who was raped and faces pregnancy and childbirth. She is a sexual female, and must be punished for it. After all, the fetus she carries is “innocent life,” which is precious, even though these meatballs don’t give a hoo-haw about the sky-high infant mortality rates in their states. Expanding Medicaid is socialism. Spending tax money to provide prenatal and infant care isn’t fair to rich people. Or whatever.

There is no negotiating with such people. They must be vanquished. Utterly.

What Kevin Williamson Doesn’t Get About Abortion in France

Kevin Williamson is still miffed about being dismissed from The Atlantic almost immediately after having been hired. He was flushed from the magazine because someone unearthed a twitter exchange from 2014 in which Williamson said that abortion should be punished like any other homicide. “I have hanging more in mind,” he tweeted.

Today he writes for the Washington Post that the tweet doesn’t necessarily represent his opinion. What he proposes is that the U.S. adopt the same abortion laws as France.

France, like many European countries, takes a stricter line on abortion than does the United States: Abortion on demand is permitted only through the 12th week of pregnancy. After that, abortion is severely restricted, permitted only to prevent grave damage to the mother’s health, or in the event of severe fetal abnormalities. France is not a neo-medieval right-wing dystopia.

The law in France imposes penalties on those who perform illegal abortions, ranging from forfeiture of medical licenses for doctors to fines and, in some cases, incarceration (for providers, not for the woman obtaining the abortion) ranging from six months to 10 years. Those sanctions seem reasonable to me. Why not start there and see how it works?

Williamson leaves out some stuff. One, for French citizens abortions are entirely paid for by the French national health care system. Abortions don’t have to be delayed so that the woman can scrape up the money to pay for them, nor do they have to get on a waiting list or travel great distances to get to the one or two clinics in the state performing them.

Amanda Marcotte wrote for Slate in 2013:

Subsequently, while a lot of these nations have abortion laws that formally reflect Christian paternalism about reproduction and women’s roles, in practice, abortion is much easier to get than it is in the United States. You may have to provide a reason for your abortion in many nations, but it’s simply a formality, a box checked and not an obstacle. More importantly, the abortion providers aren’t being hounded out of existence and in many cases, the cost of the abortion is paid for by the state health care plan. Katha Pollitt recently elaborated in The Nation:

Here’s what’s really different about Western Europe: in France, you can get an abortion at any public hospital and it’s paid for by the government. In Germany, you can get one at a hospital or a doctor’s office, and health plans will pay for it for low-income women. In Sweden, abortion is free through eighteen weeks.

Note that contraceptive services also are free for French citizens, and I doubt le Parlement français is perpetually attempting to pass laws defunding those services. There is no surer way to reduce rates of abortion in a population than use of contraceptives.

Regarding fetal abnormalities, when severe fetal abnormalities are diagnosed in France, apparently the system applies a lot of pressure on the woman to abort. Refusal to abort is considered a problem resulting from “magical thinking.” Here in the U.S., abortion rights advocates have had to fight tooth and nail to keep later medical abortions legal for those who choose them.

A 12-week  gestational limit for elective abortion is standard in most European countries, with only a couple of exceptions, and I’m not hearing a lot of complaints about it.  In theory, that ought to be workable here, too. According to the CDC, in the U.S.,

Women in their twenties accounted for the majority of abortions in 2015 and throughout the period of analysis. The majority of abortions in 2015 took place early in gestation: 91.1% of abortions were performed at ?13 weeks’ gestation; a smaller number of abortions (7.6%) were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation, and even fewer (1.3%) were performed at ?21 weeks’ gestation. In 2015, 24.6% of all abortions were early medical abortions (a non-surgical abortion at ?8 weeks’ gestation).

However, without easy access to abortion services that are convenient and free (as in paid for by tax dollars) at least to poor and middle-income women, poor women are going to be driven to do-it-yourself and back-alley abortions, which is already happening in places like Texas.

Susanna was young, single, broke and pregnant in southern Texas where, thanks to the state’s strict laws, her chances of getting a surgical abortion at a clinic were slim to none.

So she did what an estimated 100,000 women or more in Texas have done – had a self-induced abortion.

With the help of a friend, some online instructions and quick dash across the Mexican border for some pills, she addressed the issue of unwanted pregnancy in a state where women are finding abortion services too expensive and too far away.

I also propose that it’s possible recent reductions in abortion rates reported in the U.S. are partly the result of increasing do-it-yourself abortions that are off the radar.

Getting back to Williamson,

The French model does not represent an ideal final settlement. It would, in fact, leave untouched the vast majority of abortions, about 90 percent of which happen during the first trimester. It would, however, represent a welcome advance — one that would establish a post-Roe v. Wade legal framework for incremental reform. Whether to restrict abortion at the 12th week or the eighth week is a very different discussion than the one we are presently having.

Already we see the problem. He and the rest of the Fetus People — so called because their brains are undeveloped — will not rest until that limit is pushed down from 12 weeks to 8 weeks to 6 weeks — a lot of women don’t know they are pregnant at six weeks — to maybe below that. If they can get it under ten days, they’ll have closed the window before a pregnancy can be diagnosed.

And, of course, abortions will need to be paid by taxpayer dollars and available in all communities, not just in one clinic per state that is surrounded by mobs of brain-eating anti-choice zombies.

Abortion is an absolute evil

Forcing a woman to go through pregnancy and childbirth against her will is an absolute evil.

The question for abortion opponents is this: Shall we act on our desire to punish, or on our desire to stop the killing? These desires do not necessarily lead in the same direction.

Well, yes, and this is something I’ve trying to explain to Fetus People for decades now. I am not alone. We know how to reduce abortion rates. The way is to make birth control readily available and to persuade people to actually practice it. Criminalizing abortions, however, does not reduce abortions at all. If anything, nations that criminalize abortions often see higher rates of abortion than countries that keep it legal.

In a new study published Wednesday, researchers from the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute examine abortion and contraceptive access throughout the world. The report, in the British medical journal The Lancet, highlights major disparities in trends for women in wealthier nations compared with those in poorer countries.

The researchers looked at country data on abortion prevalence, contraceptive use by method, and unmet need for contraception in order to analyze trends across every major region and subregion between 1990 and 2014. They came to several illuminating conclusions:

Strict abortion restrictions didn’t necessarily lead to a significant decrease in the rate of abortion: For example, the study’s authors note that across the 53 countries where abortion is completely illegal or only permitted to save a woman’s life, the rate of abortions is 37 per 1,000 women. In the countries where abortion is legal, the rate is 34 abortions per 1,000 women. That’s in part because women living in countries with more restrictive abortion laws are also more likely to have an unmet need for contraception. “This adds to the incidence of abortion in countries with restrictive laws,” the Guttmacher Institute’s Dr. Gilda Sedgh, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.  …

…”The obvious interpretation is that criminalising abortion does not prevent it but, rather, drives women to seek illegal services or methods,” wrote Diana Greene Foster, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, in a commentary responding to The Lancet study.

But Greene Foster also points out in her commentary that some of these findings don’t provide the full picture. “This simple story overlooks the many women who, in the absence of safe legal services, carry unwanted pregnancies to term,” she writes. “As a consequence of increased rates of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion, such women face an increased risk of maternal mortality and bear children that they are not ready to care for and often cannot afford.”

See also:

New Study: Anti-Abortion Laws Don’t Reduce Abortion Rates. Contraception Does.

Making Abortion Illegal Does Not Reduce Number of Women Having Terminations, Study Concludes

Banning Abortion Doesn’t Actually Reduce Abortion Rates at All

And, finally,

Amid new talk of criminalizing abortion, research shows the dangers of making it illegal for women (Washington Post, April 5, 2018)

The idea of criminalizing abortions is not new, but a push has emerged recently among some antiabortion advocates for enacting strict penalties against women who have the procedure, and not just doctors and clinics that provide abortions.

Research over the past decade, however, casts significant doubt on whether criminalizing abortion would reduce abortion rates. And data from countries where abortion is outlawed suggests it could have serious consequences on women’s health and safety….

…The study revealed that abortion rates had fallen significantly in the past 14 years in developed countries where laws tended to be more lax, but largely stayed the same in poorer countries with more restrictive laws. The study’s authors concluded this was likely because the countries with the most rules against abortion also tended to offer less access to modern contraception, sex education and family-planning services.

“The evidence is clear that the most effective way to reduce abortion rates is to prevent unintended pregnancies through modern contraceptives,” said Heather Boonstra, public policy director at the Guttmacher Institute. …

… The other key data point that has emerged from research over the years is the relationship between abortion laws and safety: In countries where abortion is most restricted, the procedure is much more dangerous for women.

In a report last year, the World Health Organization found that in countries where abortion is completely banned or permitted only to save the woman’s life or health, 1 in 4 abortions was safe. By comparison, in countries where abortion is legal, nearly 9 in 10 abortions were performed safely. The WHO researchers found that 45 percent of abortions worldwide were unsafe, endangering about 25 million women each year.

Laws against abortion have additional consequences for women. In El Salvador, for example, abortion is illegal with no exceptions. Women found guilty of getting an abortion can face years in prison. In February, one Salvadoran woman who had spent almost 11 years in prison was freed after the Supreme Court commuted her sentence. Suicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant teenagers in that country. [emphasis added]

So there we are. And none of this information is really new. The World Health Organization study being discussed in the articles above is from last year, but if you look you can find other studies by many other organizations going back more than a decade — probably a couple of decades — saying the same thing. Criminalizing abortion doesn’t stop it. Punishing women and their doctors doesn’t stop it. Nothing actually stops it — there have always been abortions, throughout human history — but rates can be dramatically reduced if sexually active people have easy access to contraceptives and actually use them. That’s a big reason why some portions of of western Europe (where abortion is legal) consistently have had the lowest abortion rates on the planet for many years — these places also have the highest rates of contraceptive use, including among teenagers.

So why are we still talking about this? Oh, I remember. Williamson and the rest of the Fetus People really just want to punish women.

Anyway — so the deal is, call off the zombies. Make abortion and contraceptives free as part of a taxpayer-funded national health service, and enable abortions to be performed in any hospital or doctor’s office. And then we can talk about lowering the gestational age, but not below 12 weeks. And then we’ll be just like France.

Update: From Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

OK, sure, let’s try France’s abortion regime! I’m glad to see Williamson endorsing free abortions being made available to women at any hospital, and making first trimester abortions unregulated!

We’ve been through this before on multiple occasions , but this move of abstracting one particular formal aspect of a European abortion law while ignoring the broader political and cultural context is useless and misleading argument. (Cf. also “Singapore uses private savings accounts!”) A 12-week limit obviously functions very differently in a country where free safe abortions are easily available and a country where many states are making it enormously difficult for many women to obtain abortions. And how often are women who ask for abortions after 12 weeks in France actually denied them?

I don’t know the answer to that last question, but a couple of weeks’ gestation are easy to fudge. And, of course, if abortion is a “homicide” at 13 weeks, why isn’t it one at 12 weeks? What has changed (nothing medically significant)? Seriously we could talk about an earlier gestational age for elective abortion than the current 23-24 weeks, but there’s no compromise that will satisfy the zombies. So there’s no point.

Stuck on Stupid on Steroids

The wingnuts are gloating because they think the Planned Parenthood shooter is a trans woman. Seriously.

Um, guys, did you look at his photo?

This came about because the Dumbest Man on the Internet® found Robert Dear’s voter registration and saw that the “female” box had been checked instead of “male.” This couldn’t possibly have been a careless mistake, of course. Or else he’s the biggest trans fail ever.

A herd of rightie bloggers are celebrating their giant gotcha. Ted Cruz called Dear a “transgendered leftist activist.”

That’s not all. You’ll love what Carly Fiorina, who has irresponsibly hyped such over-the-top lies that even the people creating the hoax “baby parts” videos couldn’t back her up, said today:

On the charge that anti-abortion rhetoric contributed to the shooting, Fiorina said, “This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing a messenger because they don’t agree with the message.”

these people have no shame.

War on Women Update

Gail Collins on House Republicans versus Planned Parenthood:

The House Judiciary Committee has been investigating the matter with lawyerly precision, starting with a hearing titled: “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.” In a further effort to offer balance and perspective, the committee did not invite Planned Parenthood to testify.

(Coming soon: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce prepares to welcome Pope Francis with a hearing on “Papal Fallibility: Why He’s Totally, Completely and Utterly Off Base About Global Warming.”)

Yesterday the House voted, mostly on party lines, to defund Planned Parenthood. That was a move meant to mollify the Scorched Earth crowd, who are determined to force another government shutdown on the issue.

Republican leaders don’t want such a shutdown, possibly because a recent poll showed that 71 percent of Americans don’t want another shutdown over Planned Parenthood. Even a small majority of Republicans don’t want it. Government shutdowns are a well-trodden path to Loserville for Republicans. So the vote was supposed to let the fire-eaters vent by voting for a bill that won’t become law. Whether this will settle them down remains to be seen.

We should brace for an uptick in women’s health clinic violence, which will not be limited to abortion clinics:

A summer of increasingly hysterical rhetoric aimed at Planned Parenthood culminated over the weekend in what appears to be a terrorist attack on a clinic in a small town in Eastern Washington. At 3:30 a.m. on Friday, the Planned Parenthood of Pullman—subject to a huge protest recently—caught fire in what investigators are deeming an arson. The damage was extensive enough to close down the clinic for at least a month. A federal anti-terrorism task force has been called in to investigate.

Anti-abortion terrorism is nothing new, of course, but at this point, it’s worth asking if “anti-abortion” is too narrow a term. After all, the clinic in question did not offer abortion. Nor was the Aug. 22 protest at the clinic, which drew an estimated 500 people, really about abortion. The protesters, who were part of a nationally organized series of actions against Planned Parenthood, were demanding the end of funding for contraception and other nonabortion service

 They’re really against health care for women. Compare/contrast to the Taliban in Afghanistan awhile back, which infamously cut women off from health care by declaring women could not be examined by male doctors while banning female doctors from their practices. Pry this hysteria down to its root, and you’ll find fear and loathing of female sexuality.

One of the Right’s favorite fictions is that if funding were cut off from Planned Parenthood, all kinds of other health care providers would step up to replace them. Experience is not showing that to be true. Gail Collins again:

Jindal cut off $730,000 in Medicaid reimbursements to his state’s two Planned Parenthood clinics, even though neither offers abortion services. They do, however, provide thousands of women with health care, including screening for sexually transmitted infections — a terrible problem in some parts of the state.

No big deal. When the issue went to court, Jindal’s administration provided a list of more than 2,000 other places where Planned Parenthood’s patients could get care.

“It strikes me as extremely odd that you have a dermatologist, an audiologist, a dentist who are billing for family planning services,”responded the judge.

Whoops. It appeared that the list-makers had overestimated a tad, and the number of alternate providers was actually more like 29. None of which had the capacity to take on a flood of additional patients.

I liked this bit:

When Planned Parenthood leaves town, bad things follow. Ask the county in Indiana that drove out its clinic, which happened to be the only place in the area that offered H.I.V. testing. That was in 2013; in March the governor announced a “public health emergency” due to the spike in H.I.V. cases.

And the clincher:

Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University, studied what happened when Texas blocked Planned Parenthood grants and tried to move the money to other providers. Even when there were other clinics in an area, she said, “they were overbooked with their own patients. What happened in Texas was the amount of family planning services dropped. And the next thing that happened, of course, was that unplanned pregnancies began to rise.”

At least, the American Taliban won’t put women in burqas. More likely they’ll mandate modest calico dresses and sunbonnets.

Those Sneaky Canadians

Sting videos just ain’t what they used to be. James O’Keefe just released one, with great fanfare, that allegedly showed “illegal activity conducted by high-level employees within Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.” What the video actually showed was a Project Veritas operator purchasing $75 of Hillary Clinton campaign swag and giving it to a Canadian.

In the five-minute video, a Project Veritas member approached the booth at the event on New York’s Roosevelt Island alongside an apparent Canadian citizen, who Project Veritas says it did not know but was in line with by “pure happenstance.”

The Canadian citizen asked if she could purchase some campaign gear. The campaign staff at the booth — which included Director of Marketing Molly Barker and Compliance Manager Erin Tibe — informed her that since she was not a U.S. citizen, she could not legally contribute to the campaign. The undercover Project Veritas member then offers to take the Canadian woman’s cash and make the contribution for her.

The video then jumps to a printout of Federal Election Commission laws, which prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to a campaign, directly or indirectly.

“Molly Barker broke the law by allowing our journalist to become the middleman,” the video says.

I watched the video. You can clearly hear the Clinton campaign staffers telling the Canadian woman she could not purchase Clinton hats and T-shirts unless she is a U.S. citizen. They asked if she had a U.S. passport or even a green card. She did not. Then the O’Keefe operative piped up and argued with them, saying the woman had come all the way from Canada to support Hillary. Then when the Canadian herself appeared to be ready to leave, the operative offered to buy stuff for the Canadian. When the operative asked if she would be allowed to do that, the Clinton staffer clarified that “you [which I take to mean the operative] would just be making a contribution to the Clinton campaign.” Then later, the Clinton staffer said that if it weren’t for federal law they would accept donations from foreigners. The video plays this up as if the staffer had said something shocking.

That’s it. That’s the “sting.” Reporters were, um, underwhelmed.

(Earlier this week, Scott Walker was reported to have said that building a fence along the Canadian border was an idea worth reviewing. I say that if politics here gets any crazier, Canada might build it.)

Oliver Willis wrote,

Project Veritas last month released a video showing their operative undercover with the Clinton campaign, discussing the registration process and whether they can register people who don’t support Clinton.

A Clinton campaign staffer is then shown telling the Project Veritas operative that they will register anyone who asks, regardless of their presidential preference. As Time reported, “Nothing in the video shows the Clinton campaign violating the law, or the campaign’s own policy. But Veritas claims, nonetheless, that the campaign is ‘skirting the law’ by first asking whether potential voters are supporters before making the registration offer. This approach to training volunteers is standard operating procedure across field campaigns, according to a Republican field staffer, who requested anonymity.”

Well, so much for that. The crew of anti-reproductive rights extremists releasing the scam Planned Parenthood videos has another one out, and this time it appears the scammers are confused about the mechanics of pregnancy.

This video actually targets Advanced Bioscience Resources, Inc., which the Fetus People call “the small and secretive company that has harvested and sold fetal body parts at Planned Parenthood clinics longer than any other entity.” ABR is a non-profit foundation that provides human tissue for scientific research. According to the Fetus People, an ABR “procurer” told a prospective “buyer” that getting an intact fetus is easy; they find a woman in an advanced stage of cervical dilation, and the fetus just “falls out.” Later in their press release the Fetus People called this a “second trimester” operation, meaning that any cervical dilation would have been induced, a point overlooked in the press release. WebMD explains how dilation is used in second trimester abortions; the fetus doesn’t “fall out.”

FYI, independent analysis has shown that even the “unedited videos released by these clowns have been doctored.

Glenn Simpson, a partner at the firm and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, assembled three teams of neutral experts to comb through the tapes using special video software. He said the teams found that all of the videos analyzed — even the supposedly “full,” unedited footage the CMP released — were missing large sections of time and misleadingly altered so that separate conversations appeared to take place in an uninterrupted take. Moreover, the forensic team found that the transcripts CMS released with the videos were frequently erroneous.

“It appears they commit what I would call ‘wishful thinking’ about what was said,” Simpson told reporters Thursday.

The videos show Planned Parenthood doctors discussing the donation of fetal tissue after abortions — a legal practice. But the CMP edited the videos into episodes that make it look as though Planned Parenthood is selling fetal parts for profit and changing abortion methods to deliver intact specimens. The family planning provider strongly denies both charges, and five separate state investigations into Planned Parenthood have cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.

Simpson said his team of experts found that the subtitles in the videos do not correspond to the actual dialogue, and that the CMP may have simply invented parts of the conversation when the recordings were too low-quality to determine what was really being said.

But, y’know, it’s all about the propaganda. A pollster is claiming that 54 percent of Republican voters think President Obama is a Muslim, so we’re not talking about advanced critical thinkers here. They’ll believe whatever they are told to believe.

The GOP White Guy Club Vs. Gynecology

This past week House Republicans did something truly remarkable, which was to scuttle an anti-abortion bill they had planned to pass on Thursday. [*] This bill, which would have banned abortions at 20 weeks’ gestation and after, was intended to please all the Fetus People zealots in Washington for their annual anti-Roe v. Wade protest march, and since the bill was not passed the Fetus People were mightily pissed. To placate them, the House hustled and passed a bill that bans federal tax dollars from being spent on abortions, which of course has been the law for some time already.

What stalled the bill was a provision that permitted abortion in the case of rape, but only if the woman had filed a police report at the time of the rape. But most rape victims do not file police reports, mostly because they are too traumatized to do so. Some Republican women balked at this provision. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who had voted for the same bill in earlier congresses, spoke for the group. No doubt remembering earlier GOP embarrassments regarding government policies and rape ( Todd Akin, anyone?), Ellmers said the bill as worded maybe should be re-thought.

“It’s a messaging issue,” said North Carolina GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers, whose objections to the restrictive rape language helped scuttle the bill and whose office later drew dozens of protesters who had wanted the stricter approach. “I believe our heart is in the right place, and we’re standing up for what is right. But I think in order to be able to have that conversation with the American people, we have always got to be speaking from the perspective of the individual and … having compassion for women in all situations.”

Right-wing men reacted to this rather mild statement as if Ellmers were raising money for the George Tillman Memorial Late-Term Abortion Drive-Through Clinic and All You Can Eat Buffet. Joan Walsh writes,

The boys over at Red State are leading the charge, with sexually insecure sad sack Erick Erickson calling her “the GOP’s Abortion Barbie” (his sick nickname for Wendy Davis) and now another Red Stater, Aaron Gardner, asking “Is Renee Ellmers worthy of life?”

That’s cold, especially considering Ellmers has had solid teabag credentials until this moment. For example, in 2013 she tried to shield men from paying into the same health insurance risk pool with women, essentially saying that women ought to pay more for health insurance because they have girl parts. And she has been solidly anti-abortion rights her entire career. She was a co-sponsor of the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which tried to confer full rights and protections of citizenship on fertilized eggs. But one small deviation, and now she’s persona non grata and perhaps not worthy of life herself? Walsh continues,

It’s fascinating to me: Right-wingers love their Mama Grizzlies, tough gals like Palin and Sen. Joni Ernst to name two, as long as they stay in line. But when they stray from wingnut orthodoxy, they can expect the same abuse female Democrats get. I’ve been looking around to see if any conservative women have stood up for Ellmers, in the face of RedState’s ugly assault, but I haven’t found any. I will surely update this post if I do.

The same thing is true of the Right’s black members. For example, back in 2011 one-time GOP frontrunner Herman Cain had to apologize after being hit with a firestorm from the Right for saying use of the N word is insensitive. I wrote at the time,

So let’s get this straight — a black candidate for the Republican nomination for president is acceptable only as long as he doesn’t play the “race card,” meaning that he must not acknowledge racism in America. But it’s OK for Herman Cain to say that African-Americans are brainwashed into voting for Democrats, a statement I find curiously racist.

In other words, women and racial minorities are welcome into the GOP as long as say what they’re told to say by the white guys.

But the 20-week ban was narrowly defeated, resulting in many newspaper editorials exulting that Republican “moderates” had won the day, which has little to do with what actually happened. Especially since Ellmers is to “moderate” what swine flu is to “well.”

But the best part, children, is that Lindsey Graham stepped in to lead the conversation on “this definitional problem with rape.” Joan Walsh again:

The funny thing is, clearly Graham thinks he’s smarter than Akin: he insists he doesn’t “want to get us into a spot where we’re debating what legitimate is.” But he doesn’t seem to understand that the whole effort to “define” rape, which he’s apparently now spearheading, is precisely about deciding whether a woman’s claim of rape is “legitimate” or not.

At its heart, this Republican project is predicated on the belief that women lie about rape, but Republicans can outsmart them. If some Republican women believe that requiring women to make a police report is draconian, then Graham is searching for another way to define a woman’s rape as legitimately deserving of an exception to their 20-week abortion ban.

The built-in dilemma for Graham at the heart of the issue is that the zealotry is fueled by fear and loathing of women and their sexuality. I’m sure some activists sincerely want to stop abortion, but if stopping abortion were the primary motivation of the anti-reproductive rights movement it wouldn’t increasingly be anti-contraception as well, since contraceptive use is the one proven way to reduce abortion. No, this is about sex and about preventing women from being free sexual agents the old-fashioned way — by keeping the threat of pregnancy hanging over their heads. Allowing women some benefit of the doubt about whether they were raped, or not, is not going to fly with these folks. But there’s no way any committee of men is going to come up with a litmus test to prove whether a woman “deserves” to make her own choices. Someone might want to womansplain that to Graham.

 Gail Collins writes,

Rape exemptions have come to dominate the abortion debate. Abortion rights groups use lack of concern for rape victims as an illustration of the heartlessness of their opponents. Their opponents propose exemptions to show that they’re reasonable. But, really, it makes no sense either way. The question of when a fetus inside a woman’s body becomes a human being is theological. If you truly believe that human life begins the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, you can’t admit any exceptions. The only real debate is whether you get to impose your religious beliefs on the entire country.

Not that anybody’s trying to be that rational. “I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape,” Senator Lindsey Graham told the anti-abortion marchers. This was four days after Graham announced that he was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination. It’s very possible that the phrase “this definitional problem with rape” will last longer than his candidacy.

Even having a “definitional problem with rape” pretty much sums up the problem, IMO, but I’m not holding my breath until Graham sees that.

[*The bill, called the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, was based on several fictions; one, that medical science has determined a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks’ gestation (not true; it’s currently thought the earliest a fetus can feel pain is 29 weeks); that abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation are “very late term” (a normal human pregnancy lasts 40 weeks; 20 weeks obviously is smack at the halfway point) and that a human fetus is viable at 20 weeks. In fact, although viability varies from pregnancy to pregnancy, no human fetus in recorded history has survived outside the womb after only 20 weeks gestation. The standard threshold of viability is considered to be 24 weeks’ gestation, and that’s still very iffy. It’s true that a very tiny percentage of babies have survived after 22 or 23 weeks, albeit with severe disabilities, but the odds are so low and the infant’s quality of life so compromised that doctors generally recommend palliative care only for a baby that premature. The Fetus People have been marching into courts and demanding that 20 weeks be considered the legal point of viability, arguing that the date at which a fetus becomes viable is a matter of scientific dispute. True, but there’s no dispute that 20 weeks’ ain’t it.]

Update: What actually happened when one woman reported a rape.

War on Women Update

Dave Weigel has moved from Slate to Bloomberg News, at at Bloomberg he tells us that the GOP has a bigger and bigger problem with women voters.

The most interesting part, to me, is that in many races around the country Republicans are having to backstep and fudge and are genuinely on the defensive about their stands on “women’s issues,” including abortion. I can remember not many years ago it was conventional wisdom that socially liberal candidates should probably not discuss abortion unless directly asked about it, and then frame all responses in “safe, legal and rare” language.

But now the tables are turned, at least in some parts of the country, and now it’s Republican candidates who have to be careful to not come across as too extremely anti-choice. It seems the overreach of many Republican state legislators, as well as Republicans in Washington, to deny women not just abortion but even reasonable access to birth control has finally triggered the realization that Republicans are dangerous to women.

Again, looking back, I remember the “wink” campaign of George W. Bush in 2000. Dubya was explicitly anti-choice, but he had plenty of women surrogates winking at voters and saying, in effect, he doesn’t mean it. He has to say that to get elected. His mother is pro-choice; his wife is pro-choice. Don’t worry about it. But this truth is that Dubya never saw a women’s rights-restricting bill he wasn’t eager to sign. Fool me once, etc.

In Michigan, for example, Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land ran what was supposed to be a “killer” ad pooh-poohing (with silence) the very idea that she was part of the war on women. Voters weren’t fooled; she’s now trailing her Democratic opponent among women voters by 17 points. “Land’s defense of her agenda that cuts access to mammograms, restricts access to contraception, and opposes equal pay for women is summed up in that now infamous 14 seconds of silence,” a Democratic spokesperson said.

I don’t think that Republicans entirely grasp that female genitalia do not a pro-women candidate make. It’s the issues, stupid.

Amanda Marcotte wrote recently that Republicans around the country are running away from “culture war” issues, notably same-sex marriage and access to birth control, and this is causing a rift between the GOP and the religious Right. Marcotte adds,

It’s almost possible to feel a small twinge of pity for the true believers on the religious right. For decades now, the Republican party has depended on them to endorse right wing ideology as a religious belief and to organize voters to get Republicans elected. But now the religious right is finding they only love you if they need you. Of course, religious conservatives shouldn’t fret too much. Just because Republican politicians may not want to engage in the culture war now doesn’t mean they won’t return to pushing the religious right’s agenda against gays and women once safely ensconced in office.

That’s probably true, although if (please) women’s votes cost the GOP the Senate in November, the next wink campaign may be aimed at religious conservatives.

Compassion vs. Reince Priebus

There was a brief flurry of mild amusement on some leftie blogs yesterday, as Chuck Todd appeared briefly to make a point. On Meet the Press he asked GOP frontman Reince Priebus about why Republicans oppose regulations on business except when the business is an abortion clinic.

And Priebus actually said, “The fact of the matter is we believe that any woman that’s faced with unplanned pregnancy deserves compassion, respect, counseling.” Seriously, he said that. It’s on the video.

Todd pressed (!) the point, asking how it could be compassionate to expect women “drive for 2 or 300 miles,” and Priebus changed the subject to taxpayer funding of abortion, which is one of the current phony issues/shiny sparkly things being dangled in front of the base to keep it focused. At this point, Todd reverted to form and failed to point out that taxpayer dollars are not, in fact, being used to fund abortions. As I said, it was a brief flurry.

The larger point is that Republicans have a weird view of “compassion” that matches their weird view of women. And their weird view of human reproduction, for that matter.

Republican Family Life

There’s a bunch of new data showing that a dramatic reduction in unwanted pregnancy — and, thereby, abortion — can be achieved by providing teenage girls and women with free counseling  and the contraception of their choice, also free. This cuts teen abortion rates by 75 percent.

As near as I can tell claims that taxes are funding abortions are based on two things: One, the exchange subsidies will pay for policies that include abortion coverage. To which I say, Oh, please. … The other is that tax money goes to Planned Parenthood, an organization that no doubt prevents more abortions than all the so-called “right to life” culties put together. Seriously, as the Fetus People make family planning services more out of reach for low income women, they should pick up their “baby killer” signs and start picketing each other.