Anti-abortion Republicans gathered in Little Rock today to press for a federal law to prohibit abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, well before fetal viability and thus unconstitutional under U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The rally was to put pressure on U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor to pressure Democratic majority leader Harry Reid to allow the measure to move forward.
The Arkansas legislature, by a narrow margin, passed a 20-week abortion ban and then, by a narrow margin, overrrode Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of the bill on account of its unconstitutionality. A similar ban in Arizona has been struck down in federal court.
Anti-abortionists are playing here on raw emotions and downplaying hard facts. Virtually all abortions are performed long before 20 weeks, the vast majority in the first trimester of prengnancy. In Arkansas, abortions are rarely performed at 20 weeks or later, and then always because of severe health problems on the part of the mother or the fetus. The Arkansas law contained no exceptions for such medical circumstances. It also included no exception for rape and incest victims.The one abortion clinic in Arkansas doesn’t perform these late procedures.
I’d bet a legitimate public sampling of opinion on the honest and full question — would you vote to outlaw abortions at 20 weeks if you knew it only applied to, at most, a bare handful of medically dangerous pregnancies — would produce a pro-woman result in Arkansas. (During the debate in Arkansas, the most recent CDC figures showed NO abortions in Arkansas at 20 weeks or later in 2010.)
Today’s event was styled as a “pro-life” event but it was nakedly political, attended by Republican politicians including former U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of the Susan B. Anthony List, which works to elect anti-abortion politicians and consultants for various Republican politicians.
They call Mark Pryor an extremist. I call extremism forcing a woman with a grave health condition to carry a fetus that can’t survive outside the womb to term in the name of somebody else’s religion. The anti-abortion groups will be canvassing Arkansas. I hope they drop by my house for a chat about extremism. I’ll give them this essay by an Air Force pilot whose wife had to make the wrenching decision on a late-term abortion and who’d have been driven to another state by Arkansas’s law — or another country if the Republicans who sermonized today are successful. He wrote, in part:
The Arkansas legislation establishes criminality at the very moment when parents and their doctors have to face painful reality. The bill is a product of ignorance and insensitivity to the suffering of parents and their unborn children. This legislation demands that grieving mothers carry their baby as long as possible, without exception. It declares that politicians know better than medical experts in every situation, even ours. This is not an argument about unwanted children. It is about the right of parents and their doctors to make educated and moral decisions with all the facts, not with a calendar.
The debate about abortion is personal for us. We wanted our child. We do not vote in Arkansas, we are here because I am stationed in Little Rock, and it is where we have to seek medical treatment. Military families like mine with spouses deployed and concerns of their own are subject to this unconscionable law as well.
It is unfair to demand that parents like us come forward with stories of personal loss, now in the state Capitol or later in courthouses. The decision we had to make was painful, personal, and ethical. My outrage as a husband and would-be father will not permit me to remain silent.