Nel's New Day

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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