Nel's New Day

January 21, 2015

House Backs Off Anti-Abortion Vote on ‘Roe v. Wade’ Anniversary

Hell froze over—at least for a short time today. House Republicans were all primed to vote tomorrow on a bill that would stop abortions after the 20th week as their way of commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal throughout the United States. The vote was to be in conjunction with the annual March for Life with thousands of anti-choice activists in Washington, D.C. Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) re-introduced the bill from last year on the first day of the 114th Congress. The House passed it in 2013, but the bill went nowhere else. Franks needs Blackburn because of his statement that there was no need to exempt rape because “the incidence of pregnancy from rape is very low.”

Two GOP women in the House, however, objected to the restrictive rape and incest exemptions only if the victims had reported their attacks to law enforcement. Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN) withdrew their support after GOP leaders refused to change the legislation at the party’s retreat last week, and the issue came to a head today. Ellmers used the excuse of not wanting the appearance of a “war on women”:

“The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials—social issues just aren’t as important [to them].”

President Obama has already promised to veto the bill. According to the White House:

“[T]he provision that requires rape and incest survivors to report the crime to a law enforcement agency or child welfare authority in order to have access to an abortion after the 20-week mark demonstrates a complete disregard for the women who experience sexual assault and the barriers they may face in reporting. Research indicates that the majority of survivors have not reported their sexual assaults to law enforcement.”

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics show that only 35 percent of rape and incest victims report the crime to the police. Either they cannot emotionally come forward because of shame or they think that the justice system will not help them. Incest victims also fear retribution if they report the crime.

Up to two dozen Republicans, both men and women, started to raise concerns to the bill. When a compromise couldn’t be reached because some lawmakers wouldn’t give up the reporting requirement, the GOP leadership changed its plans to move forward a bill prohibiting federal funding for abortions. Current law restricts the use of federal funds toward abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is threatened, but the proposed bill would keep women from receiving federal tax credits toward their insurance, including plans through the healthcare law’s exchanges, and from getting coverage for abortion services.

The divisiveness among House Republicans follows yesterday’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech: Rep. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said nothing about immigration, but in a supposedly verbatim translation, Rep. Carlos Curbelo  (R-FL) gave his Hispanic audience some reassurances about reform.

In a reversal of the usual GOP procedures, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) met with at least half of the 22 Republican women in the House. Usually the male Republicans in the House, 224 this year, make all the decisions about women’s bodies. As the Washington Post reported:

“A meeting with top [House] leaders requested and attended almost exclusively by women is a rare sight. One-by-one they exited the meeting and remained tight-lipped.”

The bill ignored the fact that almost 99 percent of abortions already occur before the 21st week of pregnancy, and later terminations usually involve “rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman’s health.” For this reason, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly opposes laws like the House proposal.

The bill required determination of the “probable” post-fertilization age of the fetus by examining the woman or taking the word of another physician. Any abortion after 20 weeks must be conducted in a way intended to save the fetus’s life “unless that manner would pose a greater risk than other methods would pose for the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” No health conditions are listed as exclusions to the ban, violating Roe v. Wade.

Most physicians define age of viability at 24 weeks; fetuses delivered at 21 weeks or less have a 0 percent chance of surviving while most do not survive until 25-26 weeks. At that time, they require skilled care, months of hospitalization, and significant financial costs to families, hospitals, and insurers. In addition, premature infants often have life-long developmental deficits and other health challenges. Roe v. Wade set viability at 28 weeks, seven months, which is still recognized as a time which offers a 90 percent chance of survival for fetuses.

The bill provided no abortions for women who learn that their fetuses have severe defects causing death after birth or severely limiting lives after birth. Fetal abnormalities are typically not diagnosed until after the 20th week. For example, a woman carrying a fetus with no brain (anencephaly) would have to carry the fetus to full term and wait for it to die after birth. Some current laws are so strict that many doctors are reluctant to abort a dead fetus.

Showing the GOP ignorance of science, the bill, H.R. 26, is called “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (PUCPA) using the false assertion that fetuses feel pain at the 21st week. Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2010 identified the possibility of pain after 24 weeks because the cortex is necessary for pain perception. Fetuses lack the neurological development to register a response and to potentially recognize an experience as pain until at least 24 weeks and probably much later.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concurred, commenting that studies used by fetal-pain law supporters lacked persuasion “when weighed together with other available information,” according to a Sept. 16, 2013 article in the New York Times. Dr. Mark Rosen, a pioneer in fetal anesthesia, concludes from his research that fetal pain perception comes at the beginning of the 27th week, in the third trimester.

In a Quinnipiac poll, 60 percent of respondents supporting their ban, yet many of these people are unaware of information about fetal viability or consequences of banning abortions before viability. Another national poll shows that 60 percent of respondents support access to abortion at 20 weeks with 33 percent of the respondents opposing. Unlike the Quinnipiac poll, the latter poll asked about specific circumstances in which women should and should not be allowed to terminate a pregnancy after the 20th week.

While risking women’s health and lives, the H.R. 36 would put the government into doctors’ offices, clinics, and hospitals by criminalizing a safe medical procedure. A 20-week ban has been declared unconstitutional because it prevents abortion before fetal viability, the gestational time when women have the right to end a pregnancy as the Supreme Court has ruled.

Nina Martin has listed ways that the coming year can limit women’s rights, both from the federal government and states controlled by Republicans, which can cause more unwanted pregnancies:

More Abortion Restrictions: Adding to the existing limits, the GOP may try to pass laws requiring women to get permission from the fetus’s father for an abortion which was declared unconstitutional over 20 years ago.

Increasing Religious Exemptions for Contraception: Bills allowing non-compliance of laws surrounding same-sex marriage can also be used to erode reproductive rights.

Non-religious Groups’ Conscience Clauses: Right-to-life organizations argue that denying abortion opponents the same exemption given to religious groups violates their constitutional right to equal protection.

Contraception Battles: Groups, including the U.S. Catholic bishops, argue that birth control is exactly the same as abortion.

Personhood Laws: The legal rights of “pre-born humans” lost at the ballot box last fall, but the National Personhood Alliance is moving to laws in municipalities and counties that would require action from courts sympathetic to the personhood movement.

The climate change in Washington will bring a rapid warming to Hell, but even a short cooling trend makes politics more livable.

We will still need to fight H.R. 36. You can ask your representative to vote against H.R. 36 and keep Roe v. Wade the law of the land.

June 18, 2013

House Passes Anti-Abortion Bill–Again

Unable to agree on almost everything else, House GOP members gathered together today to pass an unconstitutional bill, 228-196, restricting almost all abortions after the 20th week. The only exception threat to the life of a pregnant woman or reported rape or incest. Six Democrats voted in favor, and six Republicans voted against the bill. The Senate won’t support such a bill, and President Obama has said that he will veto the bill if it did. Yet national legislators seem determined to support all the red states that have introduced over 900 unreasonable anti-abortion bills this year alone.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who rammed the bill through his Judiciary Committee, should have led the debate on the House floor, but his Akin-esque statements have been so foolish that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) assigned Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) that job. Her sole criterion is that she is female, a demographic missing in the committee vote. Her policies made her a good advocate for this anti-woman bill: she wants to end funding for Planned Parenthood and thinks that pay-equity laws take independence away from women.

One of Blackburn’s claims is that the bill was “for the children.” To really help children, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) proposed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, requiring employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant women. This bill, referred to committee over a month ago, has failed to achieve even a hearing. PWFA responded to a concerns raised in a report about how pregnant women cannot get even the simplest of accommodations from employers such as extra bathroom breaks, the ability to sit instead of stand on the job, and the option of not lifting heavy objects.

Most women don’t work during their pregnancy because they think it’s fun; they do it because they need to help support their family. According to the report, “almost nine out of ten (88 percent) first-time mothers who worked while pregnant work into their last two months of pregnancy in 2006-2008, and more than eight out of ten (82 percent) worked into their last month of pregnancy.”

A 2008 law requires that pregnant workers receive the same protections as disabled workers. Employers, however, ignore their obligations, and courts have not done anything to protect pregnant workers. Even if they could quit during their pregnancy, only half of them qualify for unpaid maternity leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. Forget paid leave—only 16 percent of private employers voluntarily give this benefit. Out of 178 countries world-wide, only two countries other than the U.S. are not required to give paid maternity leave, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.

Paid maternity leave would help the “children” who Blackburn describes. In her defense of the anti-abortion bill, Blackburn gave these empty words: “We are incredibly concerned about the well-being, safety, the health of these women. The life of women.”

Blackburn also said that “science is on our side.” The bill’s name, Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is based on an erroneous belief that the fetus can feel pain when it is aborted.  Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) presented the most outlandish “proof” of this pain—to this point, anyway—when he explained during a House Rules Committee meeting that he has seen male fetuses masturbating in the womb around 15 weeks into a pregnancy. As an OB-GYN, he would have the opportunity to watch “the male baby … have their hand between their legs.” (Thanks to Adele Stan, RH Reality Check, for finding this video.)

Two years ago, two Italian doctors did report witnessing a female fetus masturbating for 20 minutes. But the fetus was 32 weeks, not 15. A 15-week-old fetus is about 4 inches long and weighs a few ounces as compared to the 3.5-pound fetus at 32 weeks. Fewer than 1 percent of abortions are during the third trimester, after about 28 weeks, and are performed only for fetuses or pregnant women who cannot live within the procedure.

Other than Burgess’ anecdotal evidence, the rationale for the Republican bill was based on one scientifically disputed study cited by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).  “The suggestion that a fetus at 20 weeks can feel pain is inconsistent with the biological evidence,” said Dr. David A. Grimes, a prominent researcher and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “To suggest that pain can be perceived without a cerebral cortex is also inconsistent with the definition of pain.”

In March 2010, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Britain said of the brain development of fetuses: “Connections from the periphery to the cortex are not intact before 24 weeks of gestation and, as most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception, it can be concluded that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior to this gestation.”

Observations of physical recoiling and hormonal responses of younger fetuses to needle touches are reflexive and do not indicate “pain awareness,” the report said.

Blackburn had another justification for the bill. When Craig Melvin, MSNBC, interviewed her about the reporting requirement for rape and incest, she said, “[T]he hope is that that will help with getting some of the perpetrators out of the population that are committing these crimes against women and against minor females. We certainly would hope that we could rid our society of these perpetrators.” Melvin asked her, “How do you fight rapists with an abortion bill?” Blackburn moved to another subject.

Only 1.5 percent of the 1.21 million abortions each year, or about 18,000, occur later than 20 weeks after conception, primarily because of medical emergencies. The new bill from the House does not permit abortions for dire medical threats, the pregnant woman’s mental health, or a catastrophically impaired fetus.

Researchers Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School and Sadath Sayeed of Harvard Medical School have weighed in on the pain debate, noting that there is no evidence that the fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks and these fetuses are certainly not considered viable. The lawmakers and anti-abortion groups arguing for the 20-week bans are “espousing a view that aligns with the political hope” rather than medical evidence, said Sayeed, who is both a neonatologist and a lawyer. They also pointed out that even if the feeling of pain could be proved, that a fetus could be anesthetized. Legally speaking, they added, the rights of the fetus do not trump those of the mother.

A study examining the affects on women turned away from having an abortion because they miss the deadline by just days, lack insurance, or live too far away shows that they have higher rates of hypertension and chronic pelvic pain. Women denied abortions are three times more likely to end up below the federal poverty level two years later. Children of unwanted pregnancies tend to be more overweight, have more acute illnesses, get lower grades, and are less popular.

Women denied abortions also need far more help from government programs. The GOP has passed an anti-abortion bill in the House at the same time that they are trying to take food and shelter away from poor children and their mothers.

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