Why Right Wing Crazies Are Trying to Destroy One of the Few Things George W. Bush Got Right, and Other News

Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report at Politico that Trump’s co-defendants are begining to turn on him. Apparently their lawyers think their best defense is that they were just following Trump’s orders.

In court documents and hearings, lawyers for people in Trump’s orbit — both high-level advisers and lesser known associates — are starting to reveal glimmers of a tried-and-true strategy in cases with many defendants: Portray yourself as a hapless pawn while piling blame on the apparent kingpin. …

… In late August, an information technology aide at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort dramatically changed his story about alleged efforts to erase surveillance video and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Jack Smith, who has charged Trump with hoarding classified documents. The aide, Yuscil Taveras, was not charged in the case, but his flip may help him dodge a possible perjury charge prosecutors were floating — and it is likely to bolster Smith’s obstruction-of-justice case against Trump and two other aides.

Then, three GOP activists who were indicted alongside Trump in Georgia for trying to interfere with the certification of President Joe Biden’s win in the state asserted that their actions were all taken at Trump’s behest.

And last week, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows — also charged in the Georgia case — signaled that his defense is likely to include blaming the former president as the primary driver of the effort.

That’s the problem with coups d’état. Yeah, there’s power and glory if you win, but you’re in a heap o’ trouble if you lose.

Last week some of the co-defendants were complaining that Trump wasn’t helping them with their legal bills. Indeed, some of them who were doing legal work for the “campaign” were stiffed.

Several of the attorneys who spearheaded President Donald Trump’s frenzied effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election tried, and failed, to collect payment for the work they did for Trump’s political operation, according to testimony to congressional investigators and Federal Election Commission records. This is despite the fact that their lawsuits and false claims of election interference helped the Trump campaign and allied committees raise $250 million in the weeks following the November vote, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot said in its final report.

So no power, no glory, and no money. And no point falling on any swords on behalf of Trump.

In other news: A Catholic priest named Richard W. Bauer is genuinely horrified that the anti-abortion movement is working to kill a very successful U.S.-funded anti-AIDS program.

Some House Republicans refuse to move forward with a five-year reauthorization of the program in its current form because of evidence-free insinuations that it indirectly funds abortion. PEPFAR’s legislative authorization expires at the end of this month. Unless Congress acts urgently to renew it, the world could lose PEPFAR as we know it.

PEPFAR is the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a George W. Bush initiative that actually had excellent results. Father Bauer spent years in Africa working with AIDS patients and saw the results himself. “The results were astounding,” he said. “PEPFAR has meant that millions of H.I.V.-positive children and adults who were near death have been brought back to life.”

Father Bauer traced the rumor that PEPFAR is funding abortions to a report from the Heritage Foundation that claimed, without evidence, that PEPFAR is promoting abortion in Africa. “That same report callously referred to H.I.V. as a ‘lifestyle disease’ and framed antiretroviral therapy as a partisan talking point,” Father Bauer wrote. He emphasizes that the programs is saving countless lives, which he has seen for himself, and that the program has always been closely monitored to be sure the money is being spent as intended.

My first reaction to this was that the anti-abortion movement has always traded in lies. Over the years they’ve claimed abortions cause breast cancer; that women who abort suffer psychological damage; that women don’t get pregnant from rape; that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal body parts. I’ve written about the lies of the Fetus People a lot over the years; see, for example, “Smoke and Mirrors and Abortion” from 2013. Most of them can’t get basic facts about gestation right. It’s a wonder they reproduce, yet they somehow do so.

And, of course, with righties, little details like facts and evidence are meaningless. They believe what they want to believe, or whatever somebody decides is expedient for them to believe.

So it is that the entire right-wing anti-abortion political infrastructure in the U.S. has decided that PEPFAR is evil and must be destroyed. Politico reports today that the law governing PEPFAR expires at the end of this month, and at the moment there seems to be no way it will be renewed. The only hope is probably some short-term funding that will have to be re-fought every few months.

And of course on the Right there’s no political penalty to allowing African babies to die of preventable disease. At least they aren’t being aborted! Priorities, you know.

Well, They Dropped the Bomb

Well, they did it. Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The justices added a second decision day this week, which is unusual. Tell me that this timing wasn’t partly to take attention away from the J6 hearing.

My phrase for the day is “imperium per iudices” which is Latin for “rule by judges.” We don’t have a democracy any more. We are no longer in a great experiment of self-government. The Supreme Court is governing us now.

States have the right to force women to give birth against their wills, but not the right to regulate the carrying of firearms as a matter of public safety. Work that one out.

It won’t stop with the states, though. The criminalizers will not rest until there is a national ban on abortion.

The imperium per iudices no longer permits self-governing by the people but is determined to govern us themselves. This is a usurpation of democracy by six extremist hacks on the Supreme Court. This Court cannot be allowed to continue. The simplest way to reform the Court would be for Congress to add several new justices, which the Constitution says it can do without a Constitutional Amendment. There should be enough justices that no one president can nominate a majority of extremist hacks. But of course, this cannot be done in the current Congress with the fillibuster rule in places.

So, Step One is that neither Manchin nor Sinema should be allowed to so much as breathe from now on without somebody in their faces telling them to end the filibuster.

Sorry; I need to fume a bit for a while now.

Supreme Court: Roe Is About to Go

Today the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi abortion law case. Mark Joseph Stern reports for Slate:

Give this to the Supreme Court: It did not leave us in suspense. During oral arguments on Wednesday in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, five Republican-appointed justices made it abundantly clear that they are prepared to abolish the constitutional right to abortion established nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the morning was how little Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett concealed their desire to overrule Roe. While Chief Justice John Roberts fruitlessly sought out a compromise, Kavanaugh and Barrett showed their cards: Both justices believe the court has an obligation to let states (or Congress) decide the abortion question. Neither showed any appetite for incremental steps or half-measures. They are eager to greenlight complete bans on all forms of abortion at every stage of pregnancy. And they are ready to do it now.

Anti-abortion fanatics don’t know the meaning of “compromise.”

Regarding the Mississippi case, I wrote a few months ago,

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.

SCOTUS doesn’t necessarily have to specifically proclaim that Roe is overturned. The Roe decision argued that the state’s interest in protecting a fetus doesn’t begin until the fetus reaches a gestational age at which it might survive outside the womb. Then as now, this is generally considered to be after 24 weeks. And, of course, Roe gives physicians broad discretion to terminate pregnancies after that time to preserve “the life and health of the mother.” If states can reset the point at which elective abortions can be banned at any point in pregnancy, Roe is effectively overturned even if nobody says so. And right-wing politicians of late have shown they don’t give a hoo-haw about the life and health of the mother and are perfectly happy to let women die in the name of “life.”

Kavanaugh, Barrett, Alito, and Thomas, IMO, are nothing but right-wing political hacks; Gorsuch and Roberts aren’t much of an improvement. I’m giving Gorsuch a bit of a break only because of McGirt v. Oklahoma. Roberts is no friend of abortion rights, but he seems to understand that striking down Roe v. Wade would stir up a backlash that could damage the Court and the Republican Party.

Mark Joseph Stern wrote that Roberts repeatedly argued that the Court might simply allow states more flexibility to determine when elective abortions could be banned but leave in place some constitutional protection for abortion. Stern continued,

But Roberts had no takers. This fact became clear when Kavanaugh asked Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart an absurd question: “To be clear, you’re not arguing that the court somehow has the authority to itself prohibit abortion?” Of course, no partyasked SCOTUS to ban abortion, and few seriously claim that the Constitution disallows abortion. Asking such a ridiculous question allowed Kavanaugh to frame overruling Roe as the true compromise in a comment aimed at the public rather than anyone in the courtroom. “The Constitution’s neither pro-life or pro-choice on the question of abortion,” he said, “but leaves the issue for the people of the states or perhaps Congress to resolve in the democratic process.” He added that if Roe goes, some states “would continue to freely allow abortion.” (At points, Kavanaugh did not even pretend to frame these thoughts as a question rather than a comment.)

So, yeah, the right-wing hacks on the Court are most likely going to toss out the gestational age rule and let states do what they want.

See also Amy Coney Barrett Suggests Forced Pregnancy Is Fine Because of Adoption at Daily Beast. Ghastly. As Paul Waldman wrote today, the only question about the eventual decision is whether the Mississippi law will be upheld by five votes, or six.

Eugene Robinson wrote,

Roe v. Wade is an important piece of the duct tape that holds this fractious nation together, and it would be a grievous error for the antiabortion majority on the Supreme Court to rip it away. …

… Like all of our constitutionally protected freedoms, the right to choose can be restricted, but not taken away. That has been the status quo for nearly five decades, and the nation has muddled through. But if Roe is reversed — if the court rules, as its most conservative justices have argued, that no protected right to reproductive choice exists — then the political cold war over abortion will flare immediately into a roaring blaze.

Given that the justices plan to be in recess from July through September, we’ll probably get the decision in May or June. Expect the conflagration to consume the midterm election campaigns. Most not-right-wing editorialists think the backlash will hit the Republican Party a lot harder than its members seem to anticipate now.

See also Alexandra Petri, Woman savoring last few hours before getting turned back into vessel.

And do watch this segment from last night’s All In With Chris Hayes. In brief, Sen. Chris Murphy has had it with Republicans who like to praise “the sanctity of life” but won’t do anything about school shootings. “I’m at my wits end about why Republicans’ concern for life seems so limited when the choices we could make to try to protect our kids are so obvious, are so politically popular, are so possible.”

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on December 1, 2021. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

The Price of Complacency Is Too High

The SCOTUS is hearing argments on the Texas vigilante abortion ban today. Kate Riga at TPM reports that the Texas law has sent “shockwaves” through neighboring states, as Texas women seek abortions.

Clinics in Texas’ neighboring states, already few in number due to sustained state-level efforts to heap restrictions upon them, are being overrun with patients further along than the six week threshold currently allowed under state law. That’s before many women know they’re pregnant, and precludes 85 to 90 percent of procedures done in Texas, according to lawyers for the clinics in court documents.

“We saw over 300 Texans last month just in our Oklahoma facilities,” Wales said. “We saw just a little more than that throughout all of last year.”

All of the neighboring states have significant abortion restrictions also, including waiting periods and a limited number of clinics.

Oklahoma requires an ultrasound and 72-hour waiting period. Kansas has a 24-hour waiting period and both private insurance (without an additionally purchased rider) and plans in the state’s health exchange only cover the procedure in cases of life endangerment. Arkansas has a 72-hour waiting period that only begins after an in-person, state-directed counseling session aimed at dissuading the patient from having the abortion.

Women, many of limited means, not only have to travel but have to remain near the clinic for a few days. Expect a robust underground network to develop in response to this. There’s also an ulcer medication that can induce abortions and which can be purchased without a prescription in Mexico. It would be fairly easy to set up a black market of the stuff in Texas. Such a black market could spread throughout the country if Roe v. Wade were reversed. If Roe goes down, legal abortions would be available on the West Coast, the northeast, and Illinois, but possibly no where else.

Whatever happens in the Court, tomorrow Virginia will elect a new governor. The polls are a toss-up. The Republican, Glenn Youngkin, downplays his “pro life” position somewhat, but he does support “fetal pain” laws. Those are laws that ban abortion after the point in gestation at which a fetus might feel pain. Medical science says that a fetus cannot feel pain until the third trimester, which begins at the 27th week of gestation. But abortion criminalizers are certain that threshold is 20 weeks. Or maybe 15. Or 6. Because they just know. They saw it on YouTube.

So one would think that most women in Virginia who haven’t reached menopause would want to be very, very sure Youngkin doesn’t get elected. But somehow complacency may win out. SCOTUS wouldn’t really overturn Roe. Would they?

Oh, hell yes, they would.

Youngkin also seems to be getting traction over the bogus Critical Race Theory issue, in which white bigots demans the right to censor school curriculum so that little white children don’t find out what their ancestors really did. You may have heard about this ad:

And, of course, the “horrible” book was Toni Morrison’s masterpiece, Beloved. Further, the son was a senior in high school who read the book as part of an AP English curriculum. One would think that every voter in Virginia who cares that schools teach the truth about slavery would want to be sure Youngkin is not the next governor. I understand that Terry McAuliffe is not the most inspiring candidate the Dems could have nominated, but there was a primary, and McAuliffe won it. It’s him or Youngkin. Will Black voters save the Democrats’ ass, one more time?

There is no time for complacency. Not tomorrow, not ever.


Roe May Be Dead; Republicans Hope We Don’t Notice

I got tickled at Dave Weigel’s column today. The intro — “The only newsletter that isn’t about Joe Manchin today, this is The Trailer.”

Many people are pissed at Manchin, who is acting up again. He wrote an op ed for the Wall Street Journal saiyng that Democrats should “hit the pause button” on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. This is especially infuriating at the very moment the nation is suffering from fires in the West and a super storm in the South and East. Climate change, bro. But Manchin doesn’t want to spend money addressing it.

Just see Joe Manchin’s Dirty Empire by Daniel Boguslaw at The Intercept. Manchin is corrupt as hell. See also Joe Manchin’s new threat to destroy Biden’s agenda is worse than it seems by Greg Sargent at WaPo and Joe Manchin Has Put Biden’s Presidency in Mortal Danger by Jonathan Chait at New York.

Dave Weigel goes on, ignoring Joe Manchin:

Donald Trump’s victory five years ago created, and later fulfilled, the possibility of a 6-3 conservative majority on the court. That emboldened conservatives, especially antiabortion activists who favored so-called “heartbeat” legislation — ending legal abortion at six weeks, when they say first flutter can be detected in embryos. And after Ginsburg’s death, while conservative activists had never felt closer to the end of Roe, Republicans in competitive races said Democrats were overhyping the potential effect on abortion rights.

“I think the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned is very minimal,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said in a debate days after the justice’s death and one day after Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. “I don’t see that happening.” In his first debate with Biden, Trump scoffed at the idea that Roe was “on the ballot,” telling the Democrat that he didn’t know how the potential justice — who yesterday joined the majority in the Texas case — would rule.

And we all remember Sen. Susan Collins assuring us that Kavanaugh believed Roe v. Wade is “settled law.” This is the line Republicans have walked for a long time. They’ve promised their base they would criminallize abortion while reassuring the public at large that they wouldn’t.

Even given the events of this week, the conservatives on the Supreme Court seem to want to maintain the fiction that they are not hardline ideologues.

Mary Ziegler, The Atlantic:

The justices who allowed Texas’s law to go into effect hardly seem to love the thought of that backlash. Their order tried to reassure the public by spelling out what was not being decided—and tried to signal that the Court takes all of this very seriously. And even before this particular question arose, during their confirmation hearings, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett repeated that when it came to Roe, they would keep an open mind. After all, they are neutral arbiters of the law, not pre-committed ideologues.

The justices desperately want the public to believe that is true, even though similar procedural hurdles did not stop the Court from blocking COVID-19 stay-at-home orders that affected in-person worship, and even though the Court’s overnight order made a laughingstock of what is still supposedly a constitutional right. The message was clear: Texas wanted to pass a legal-consequence-free abortion ban, and the Supreme Court wanted to find a political-consequence-free way to uphold one. …

… The Supreme Court may want to reverse Roe, but it is afraid of what will happen when the decision is gone. This fear makes it attractive to hem and haw, to deny and obfuscate. Clarence Thomas may not miss a chance to denounce Roe, but his colleagues are less keen to do so.

They don’t seem to be fooling anyone, however. So Democrats are mostly speaking out and vowing to fight the Texas law. Given their narrow hold on Congress there doesn’t seem to be much they can do, but we can hope it will help inspire a big turnout in the midterms. Republicans, though, are being strangely quiet and pretending that Roe v. Wade isn’t really dead.

Fetus Vigilantes Are Unleashed in Texas

I have long believed that abortion is an effective wedge issue for Republicans as long as Roe v. Wade stays in effect. Polls going back years show a reasonably comfortable majority of Americans support Roe and don’t want it overturned. The criminalizers will always vote for politicians promising criminalization. But if states really did criminalize abortion, I suspect the criminalizers would face a backlash they are not now expecting.

Well, that theory may be about to be put to the test.

The Texas law that went into effect today bans abortions very early in pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. According to Paul Waldman, the law bans abortions six weeks after the first day of a woman’s last period, which in an average cycle would be only four weeks after conception. Many, possibly most, women don’t know they are pregnant at that point.

Worse, the law “establishes a system of legal vigilantism whose purpose is nothing less than terrorizing and financially ruining not just abortion providers but also anyone who helps any woman get an abortion,” Waldman writes.

It allows anyone to sue not just an abortion provider but someone who “aids or abets” an abortion. So for instance, if you give your friend a ride to the abortion clinic, any random person in America could sue you for a minimum of $10,000. Even if you won the case — say, because your friend managed to get in her abortion five weeks after her last period, or because you never gave anyone a ride anywhere — you’d still have the legal bills to contend with.


Weird, huh? Summer Concepcion writes at Talking Points Memo,

As The Intercept’s Jordan Smith notes, typically in civil litigation, the individual suing must have been harmed in some way.

Not only does the law put abortion providers at risk, but also generally anyone who could be classified as “abetting” the act — such as a rideshare driver who takes someone to an abortion clinic, a counselor, a friend who helped pay for it, etc.

Therefore, the law is designed to evade federal court challenges by allowing private individuals, rather than state authorities, to sue the so-called “abettors.”

at Vox also writes that the law was drafted to prevent courts from reviewing it.

The way it’s written, a Texan who objects to SB 8 may have no one they can sue to stop it from taking effect.

For one, abortion rights plaintiffs can’t sue their state directly. The ordinary rule is that when someone sues a state in order to block a state law, they cannot sue the state directly. States benefit from a doctrine known as “sovereign immunity,” which typically prevents lawsuits against the state itself.

But they also can’t really follow the same path that most citizens who want to stop laws do. That path relies on Ex parte Young (1908), a decision in which the Supreme Court established that someone raising a constitutional challenge to a state law may sue the state officer charged with enforcing that law — and obtain a court order preventing that officer from enforcing it. So, for example, if Texas passed a law requiring the state medical board to strip all abortion providers of their medical licenses, a plaintiff could sue the medical board. If a state passed a law requiring state police to blockade abortion clinics, a plaintiff might sue the chief of the state’s police force.

Part of what makes SB 8 such a bizarre law is that it does not permit any state official to enforce it. Rather, the statute provides that it “shall be enforced exclusively through . . . private civil actions.”

Under the law, “any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state,” may bring a private lawsuit against anyone who performs an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, or against anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.” Plaintiffs who prevail in such suits shall receive at least $10,000 from the defendant.

SB 8, in other words, attempts to make an end run around Young by preventing state officials from directly enforcing the law. Again, Young established that a plaintiff may sue a state official charged with enforcing a state law in order to block enforcement of that law. But if no state official is charged with enforcing the law, there’s no one to sue in order to block the law. Checkmate, libs.

Naturally, Texas Right to Life set up a website for people to report anonymous tips of illegal abortion activity. Naturally, since going online, the site has been robustly trolled.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant a request to block the law, so now it’s a law. Still to be decided is a Mississippi abortion case I wrote about several weeks ago. That case is a direct challenge to Roe also. But knowing wingnuts, I do not doubt a whole lot of chubby white men in state legislatures are looking closely at this Texas law and planning to introduce a similar law in their own states. This could get very messy.

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.

Why I Don’t Give Money to NARAL

Cheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times:

In the 116th Congress, if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a socialist, a baby killer or an anti-Semite.

That, at least, is what Republicans want voters to think, as they seek to demonize Democrats well in advance of the 2020 elections by painting them as left-wing crazies who will destroy the American economy, murder newborn babies and turn a blind eye to bigotry against Jews.

This sort of tactic is nothing new. Here is a story from 2004:

The Republican Party acknowledged yesterday sending mass mailings to residents of two states warning that “liberals” seek to ban the Bible. It said the mailings were part of its effort to mobilize religious voters for President Bush.

They do this stuff because it works. And at this point the Republicans are out of ideas — all they’ve got left is cutting taxes, banning abortion and investigating Hillary Clinton. So they lie.

But the lies work for them, for several reasons. The biggest one is that the abandonment of the working class by the Democratic Party means that there’s a big demographic of Americans that never hear anything Democrats have to say. There is a near complete shut out of Democratic and progressive messaging in large parts of the country. It’s also the case that Republicans spent decades building an interconnected infrastructure of media and think tanks to generate and promote Republican propaganda, and Democrats don’t have anything to compete with that.

And then there’s the fact that some advocacy groups on “our” side, groups that soak up our donations and support, are pretty close to worthless. NARAL is a case in point.

The National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws was founded in 1969, when the fight to legalize abortion was being fought state-by-state. When the Roe v. Wade decision struck down most state laws in 1973, the organization changed its name to National Abortion Rights Action League. Today it calls itself NARAL Pro-Choice America, and it is a 501(c)(4) organization headquartered in Washington, DC. There is also a NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and a NARAL PAC.

Why do I think NARAL is a waste of time? Let me count the ways.

Being fervently in favor of reproductive rights, back in the 1970s I became a dues-paying member of NARAL. In the late 1970s I was living in Cincinnati, which is a conservative town with a big Catholic presence. Everywhere I looked, I saw anti-abortion propaganda, from billboards to the way the issue was covered in the local newspapers. I remember a lot of photos of sweet-faced nuns at candlelight vigils on the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer. If a pro-reproductive rights viewpoint was presented at all, it was badly written and on page B12.  I wrote many letters to editors in those days, none of which were published.

Where was NARAL? One day their newsletter arrived in the mail. And I learned from the newsletter that the organization had decided to put all of its resources into lobbying. There would be no public outreach or even attempts to get the pro-choice perspective into the nation’s newspapers. Just lobbying.

That’s when I stopped sending them money.

In the years since I’ve observed anti-abortion talking points dominate news coverage. I’ve seen the same stupid and easily refutable arguments made, over and over, and rarely answered. I’ve seen nothing in the way of public education about abortion law and practices in the U.S., a topic of which most Americans are grossly ignorant, which is why the Right gets away with lying about it.

The single biggest lie about abortion law that the Right has used successfully for years is that abortion is legal in the U.S. throughout pregnancy, and even immediately after. They can murder newborn babies! But no, they can’t.

The fact is that Roe v. Wade allows states to ban elective abortions after the gestational age at which a fetus might be viable. Then as now, that’s considered after the 23rd week of pregnancy. According to Alan Guttmacher, 43 states have gestational limits on legal abortion ranging from 20 to 24 weeks.

The remaining states are California, Colorado, District of Columbia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont. There’s a big fight going on in Vermont right now over abortion access. It turns out that while there is no specific gestational limit on the books in Vermont, there are no abortion providers in Vermont performing third-trimester abortions.

The Vermont Medical Society testified before the House Human Services Committee on H.57 earlier this month.

“Vermont law currently is silent on abortion and allows abortion with no restriction,” it said. However, in 2016, the latest year for which abortion data is available, “91.7 percent of all Vermont abortions happened within the first trimester (12 weeks or less) and only 1.3 percent of Vermont abortions occurred in 2016 after 21 weeks.”

Data from the Centers for Disease Control on abortions nationwide in 2015 shows that seven abortions were conducted in Vermont after 21 weeks — 0.7 percent of all abortions in the state — but doesn’t give a more specific breakdown for when those procedures were performed.

The medical society added that woman simply do not elect to terminate pregnancies in the final few months, as opponents of H.57, like Coyne, suggest.

“‘Late term’ abortion is a social construct introduced to create an image of an elective abortion that happens closer to 8-9 months, which does not happen and is not a term that is used medically,” the society says.

And even if a woman wanted to abort a pregnancy that late, there are no providers who would do it in Vermont, according to the medical society.

“No abortion providers in Vermont perform elective abortions in the third trimester,” it says.

Lucy Leriche, the vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the only time when a woman might get an abortion that late in their pregnancy would be “under really severe circumstances for health of mother or because the viability of pregnancy is at risk.”

Doctors who do carry out elective procedures that late in pregnancy, she added, would face dire professional consequences for violating their licensure and committing medical malpractice.

If you check out the circumstances in the other states, you find the same thing. Even where there is no specific gestational limit on elective post-viabillity abortions, doctors simply don’t do them, and women aren’t asking for them. When pregnancies have to be terminated in the third trimester because the mother is at risk, every effort is made to save the baby.

Yet for years — nay, decades — the anti-reproductive-rights people have been keeping their supporters whipped up with stories of full-term babies killed in abortion procedures. This simply is not happening. Why hasn’t there been a robust public education effort being made all this time explaining the facts?

NARAL? (Cricket chirps)

For that matter, the whole emphasis on “choice” is off. Where abortion is criminalized, women still get abortions. Criminalization doesn’t even slow it down, as a great deal of real-world experience shows us. That doesn’t mean that criminalization doesn’t cause a lot of suffering to women or doesn’t force some women to carry pregnancies to term against their will. Criminalization has many consequences no one is talking about. In Latin American countries, for example, women suffering natural miscarriages are criminally investigated. See “What Happens When Abortion Is Banned?” for the real-world details. See also “When Abortion Is Illegal, Women Rarely Die. But They Still Suffer.” From the latter article:

If other countries are a guide, abortion restrictions won’t reduce the number of abortions that take place: According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates in countries where abortion is legal are similar to those in countries where it’s illegal. In parts of the world where abortion is illegal, botched abortions still cause about 8 to 11 percent of all maternal deaths, or about 30,000 each year.

But abortion-related deaths are much less common than they were a few decades ago, especially in countries with functional health-care systems. Since the early ’90s, abortion fatalities have declined by 42 percent globally. This is despite the fact that about 45 percent of all the abortions in the world are still performed in “unsafe” circumstances—meaning without the help of a trained professional or with an outdated medical method. Unsafe abortions are more common in countries where the practice is illegal.

While fewer women are perforating their uterus or dying of sepsis, if women who attempt to perform their own abortion are taken to the hospital with complications, they might be reported to the authorities and face jail time.

That’s the future criminalization will bring us.

The 501(c)(4) portion of NARAL has an annual budget of about $8.5 million, according to several sources. According to a recent annual report from NARAL, 85 percent of their budget is spent on “program services.” My impression from reading the report is that their biggest effort these days is working to elect pro-choice politicians to office, and that’s fine. But wouldn’t some effort at public education pay bigger dividends?