Rich Lowry, Dishonesty, and the GOP’s Current Strategy to End Reproductive Rights

One could be forgiven, if upon completing a crash course in American politics, one held the belief that the far right, realizing that time, and demographics, was passing them by, abandoning them to the dust bin of history, decided to try to do as much damage to women’s rights and reproductive choice, to turn the clock as far back as they possibly could in the fleeting moments they had in power before changing norms, unstoppable demographic changes, and their own inability to change, to evolve, to let go of a system of belief forged in a bygone era with no resemblance to our own, swept them from relevance for the final time.  While most of the current crop of Tea Party Republicans in office were elected on a promise to concentrate on economic concerns, on fiscal conservatism while leaving the divisive moral battles for another time, once in office this facade was quickly dropped so that the War on Women and the men who believe in their rights and autonomy could be waged in earnest.  So many abortion restrictions were proposed that records were broken.  Fringe beliefs common amongst the anti-abortion zealots, mainly about rape, began to enter mainstream discussions on a woman’s right to choose.  Perhaps drunk on the rush of not hiding their more unpopular beliefs, birth control was revealed as an enemy of the so-called “pro-life,” as fetal life amendments were proposed, contraceptive coverage was opposed, and Sandra Fluke was slut-shamed.  It certainly felt like the last charge of a doomed battle, a social suicide bombing intended to take years of elections and legislation to undo.

But this is not a part of the culture war that is already decided, like some.  Marriage equality, for example, is a war the religious right has fought and lost.  Changing cultural norms, the widespread visibility of the openly homosexual, the fact that almost everyone has a family member or a close friend that they love who is a part of the LGBT community, and the complete lack of rational arguments by the other side has left no question as to which side will eventually be declared victorious.  There will still be battles, and in conservative areas there can still be setbacks; don’t get me wrong, it is not time to relax and assume we have no more work to do.  Many states have laws that need repealed, others need laws passed, it is not finished until there is total equality under the law without exception.  But while there is a chance that individual battles will end in setbacks and delays, the overall tide can not be reversed.  When the history books are written, we know the victors are equality and human rights, not hate, prejudice, and intolerance.

No, the War on Women is still being fought, and on this front of the culture war there are no assured victories.  Illegal abortion, and the toll it took in woman’s lives, health, well-being, opportunities, freedoms and rights is a phantom, not seen or felt by so many alive today who would be affected.    Casual misogyny twists the minds of many, turning the conflict into one between the innocent unborn and the irresponsible sluts who will kill them for convenience, over and over again.  In these minds, birth control never fails, and if it does, she is the one who rolled the dice by daring to be a sexual being.  Slut shaming, if not a treasured pastime, is at least a weekend hobby for several men I know.  And then seemingly rational ideas are put forward, statements are framed in such a way that only the radical could disagree, goalposts are moved and the middle of the debate is undergoing an attempted redefinition.

And that is where we find ourselves now, witnessing the GOP’s grand new strategy in the War on Women.  If you can not change minds, change the terms.  Paint advocates for reproductive choice as extremists, and anti-abortion crusaders as compromisers, only looking out for what is best for the woman.  Be dishonest in every possible way.  Make rational sounding suggestions and hope the general public is too busy with their own lives to realize the confidence game you are running on them.  This is a battle we can lose, because to educate yourself, to discover the truth, takes effort, and too few are willing to expend that effort.  It is our responsibility to force open peoples eyes, to expose the lies and misrepresentations when they present themselves, or we will be dealing with the consequences as clinics close, choices evaporate, and women die in back alleys once again.

Rich Lowry gives a vivid example of what we are up against in his column today, found here at The New Hampshire Sentinel SourceWendy Davis, abortion extremist.  This is the dishonesty we must expose, the strategy we must combat.

Wendy Davis is the country’s most prominent defender of late-term abortions. What Rosa Parks was to desegregation, what Eunice Kennedy Shriver was to respect for the disabled, what Elizabeth Cady Stanton was to women’s suffrage, the Texas state senator is to abortion after 20 weeks of fetal development.

Texas just passed a law banning abortion after that point, a measure supported by the public and by common sense, but not by the stalwart Davis. For her trouble, she has been accorded fawning media coverage and showered with $1 million in donations, showing that abortion radicalism sells in America — so long as it is pro-abortion radicalism.

One thing immediately jumps out so far.  20 weeks.  This is not a new part of the right’s attack on reproductive rights, but it is an effective one.  Make the argument about late term abortions.  This theme continues:

A ban after 20 weeks, near the end of the second trimester, represents a minor restriction on abortion by any reasonable standard. Many European countries, which we tend to consider laxer on such matters, ban abortion well before 20 weeks. It’s not just that Wendy Davis is out of step in Texas; she would be out of step in Belgium and France, where abortion is banned after 12 weeks.

The comparison to Europe is deceptive.  Take France for example.  Abortion is banned there after 12 weeks (or 14 weeks after the last menstrual cycle).  However, “Abortions at later stages of pregnancy are allowed if two physicians certify that the abortion will be done to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; a risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or that the child will suffer from a particularly severe illness recognized as incurable.”  The bolding there is mine.  The ban is no where near as absolute as Lowry makes it sound.  And for any limitation, France also has other more liberal policies towards abortion than the United States.  Like state funded abortions.  Comparing one part of a nations abortion policy to one part of anothers is dishonest.

The 20-week benchmark isn’t arbitrary. By then, the latest research suggests that fetuses feel pain. The respected University of Utah expert Maureen Condic recently testified before Congress that at 20 weeks, a fetus has “an increase in stress hormones in response to painful experiences,” and other reactions that “reflect a mature, body-wide response to pain.” It is her view that fetuses “deserve the benefit of the doubt regarding their experience of pain and protection from cruelty under the law.”

The “latest research?”  This is far from a settled question.  There is this from the New Scientist:

Fetuses aged 24 weeks or less do not have the brain connections to feel pain, according to a working party report published this week by the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

Its conclusion is the latest to challenge the rationale for a law introduced in the US state of Nebraska in April. This law, which bans almost all abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, was introduced primarily on the grounds that the fetus feels pain.

The report, which reviews recent scientific literature on the subject, also concludes that the fetus is sedated throughout pregnancy by chemicals such as adenosine contained in the amniotic fluid that surrounds it.

This from Discover:

Fetuses cannot feel pain until at least the 28th week of gestation because they haven’t formed the necessary nerve pathways, says Mark Rosen, an obstetrical anesthesiologist at the University of California at San Francisco. He and his colleagues determined that until the third trimester, “the wiring at the point where you feel pain, such as the skin, doesn’t reach the emotional part where you feel pain, in the brain.” Although fetuses start forming pain receptors eight weeks into development, the thalamus, the part of the brain that routes information to other areas, doesn’t form for 20 more weeks. Without the thalamus, Rosen says, no information can reach the cortex for processing

and this from Reason:

The political controversy over fetal pain isn’t about the scientific debate as much as it’s about how people feel about the morality of abortion. It’s a pretty safe bet that people who worry about fetal pain are actually morally opposed to nearly all abortions. They are using whatever scintillas of scientific evidence they can scrounge up to try to justify “compelling state interests” with the aim of prohibiting as many abortions as they can. On the other hand, people who oppose restrictions on a woman’s right to control her own body have every reason to argue that the scientific evidence indicating a lack of fetal pain undercuts claims for “compelling state interests” to limit abortions.

Lowry is quick to quote “respected University of Utah expert Maureen Condic”‘s views on the issue, but not so open with her overall anti-abortion beliefs, her belief that life begins at conception, or the fact that while most scientists have no argument with her on the development of the fetal brain, her views on the fetuses ability to feel pain is not supported by the evidence but rather colored by her anti-abortion beliefs.  Not only is Lowry using the appeal to authority logical fallacy, the very authority he appeals to is suspect.  Back to his column now….

The public basically believes the same thing. In Texas, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found 62 percent of people support the ban. Nationwide, even a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 59 percent support a ban after 20 weeks. A Gallup poll late last year found that 64 percent think abortion should be illegal after 12 weeks

Which is disturbing and cause for alarm.  I hope that everyone reading this sees those numbers and gets off of your ass and does something to change them.  But..the argument from popularity is still a logical fallacy.  The wide support the ban seems to have is proof of the success the GOP is having at reframing the debate and the issue.

There is nothing outlandish or — assuming its supporters don’t make suicidally stupid rhetorical mistakes — politically risky about the Texas law. It includes an exception for the health of the mother and for extreme fetal abnormality.

What it doesn’t have is a rape or incest exception.  No surprise for those paying attention at home, I am sure….

Wendy Davis always couches her position, of course, in terms of reproductive “health.” In the very same breath, though, she opposes a provision of the Texas law requiring that abortion clinics meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers. Since abortion involves outpatient surgery, this would seem an uncontroversial measure, especially given that Democrats favor the strict regulation of practically every other business and activity in America.

The first mention by Lowry of any part of the Texas bill other than the 20 week ban, and holy shit is it a deceptive mention.  Let us unpack this, shall we?

The Texas Omnibus Anti-Abortion bill, or HB2, is much, much more than just a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.  Lowry, and many other anti-choice crusaders, make it about that and that alone because the later into the pregnancy it is, the less the public supports choice.  The Texas bill also contains many provisions intended to close down clinics under the guise of “protecting women’s health.”  From RHRealityCheck:

HB 2 bans abortion after 20 weeks, requires abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges, restricts the prescription of medical abortions, and mandates that all abortion facilities be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, a rule which would shut down all but five abortion facilities currently operating in Texas. The remaining legal abortion clinics will be located in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.

(Sen. Glenn)Hegar(R-Katy) , a rice farmer, rejected all 20 of the senate democrats’ proposed amendments, which included an exception for rape and incest victims to the 20-week ban, an attempt to shore-up sex education, and a rule allowing teen moms to obtain birth control without parental approval. Democrats said that all the amendments were intended to reduce the need for abortion in the first place, but Hegar repeated his usual mantra, saying the bill is only about “improving the standard of care” in abortion clinics. When it came to contraception and teen pregnancy, Hegar said those topics weren’t “germane” to the abortion issue.

See the strategy?  See how devious?  Make the restrictions look like things no one rational would argue against, and suddenly those against the restrictions are seen as extremists.  Like hospital admitting privileges.  What could possibly be wrong with that?  Let’s ask the National Partnership for Women and Families:

In many parts of Texas, the only hospitals are religiously affiliated and do not grant admitting privileges to abortion providers, according to the AP/News-Journal.

And since they have to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where their clinic is, looks like they are a bit shit out of luck.  But still, isn’t it unsafe to not have admitting privileges?

Stacy Wilson — a spokesperson for the Texas Hospital Association — said the measure “is not, in our opinion, an appropriate way” to ensure that patients can receive care at hospitals. “Requiring hospitals to credential and grant privileges to doctors who provide outpatient services is time consuming and expensive for the hospital,” Wilson said, adding that hospitals are prepared to accept patients regardless of whether physicians have admitting privileges.

This is a restriction that sounds good, but in practice has no effect at all other than stopping doctors from providing abortion.

Well then, how about the ” licensed as ambulatory surgical centers” part.  That’s good, right?  Safer for the woman, right?  Actually, this is just another TRAP law.  (That is Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider, fyi.)  First, from RHRealityCheck:

The modifications required for compliance with ambulatory surgical center standards would require clinics to make significant structural changes, like widened hallways and modifications to air flow patterns, that one abortion provider told RH Reality Check are “unwarranted” in terms of improving the health and safety of abortion patients.

“There’s no basis in medicine that requires the higher level of sophistication of the physical plant and regulations that go with an ambulatory surgical center,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder of the Whole Woman’s Health group of reproductive health clinics, oversees five clinics in Texas, one of which is an ambulatory surgical center.

From the Center for Reproductive Rights:

Ambulatory surgical center (“ASC”) requirements mandate that abortion providers become licensed as ASCs and meet all requirements imposed on ASCs. ASC regulations usually include all of the types of burdensome requirements imposed by health facility licensing schemes, as well as stringent physical plant requirements, which generally cannot be met by doctors’ offices or outpatient clinics, and which go far beyond the recommendations of recognized medical guidelines.

From RawStory:

Because surgical and medication abortions are so safe, it’s incredibly rare for abortion doctors to carry hospital admitting privileges. The Texas Tribune noted that the most recent death in Texas attributed to complications from a surgical abortion was in 2000. The National Abortion Federation estimates that only one in every 160,000 abortions will result in complications leading to death, usually from embolism or reaction to anesthesia. By comparison, the risks of carrying a child to term are exponentially greater.

That’s why the vast majority of abortion clinics in the state are not licensed as ambulatory surgery centers, which requires buildings meet certain specifications. Forcing the clinics to obtain those licenses would not just require an application and filing fee, but costly remodels to their facilities as well.

And from the NAF:

The regulations imposed by TRAP bills can include various structural requirements, such as specifications for the janitors’ closets, hallway width and height, lawn care standards, or excessive staffing requirements. The bills often establish new licensing requirements for abortion clinics, subjecting clinics to heavy fees and regular inspections of facilities and records by the state, sometimes without adequate safeguards to protect patient privacy.

TRAP bills are measures calculated to chip away at abortion access through the guise of legitimate regulation. These pieces of legislation often single out abortion clinics for special regulations that similar medical facilities are not subjected to. Some TRAP bills redefine abortion clinics as hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers. By doing so, such bills subject abortion clinics to stringent regulations which are inappropriate and unnecessary for outpatient facilities.

But as Lowry will tell you, these restrictions are all about improving the safety of the woman.  Speaking of, back to Lowry’s column.  This column is such a perfect snapshot of the right’s strategy to end the right of reproductive freedom, I am honestly shocked that he hasn’t mentioned Gosnell.  After all, all anti-abortion screeds have to mention the evil doctor.  I think it is a law now.

The provision is drawn from the recommendations of the Gosnell grand-jury report that wanted tighter controls to prevent the kind of butchery that it had investigated from happening again. The requirements, like wider hallways, aren’t frivolous. One of Kermit Gosnell’s “patients” bled to death because his clinic couldn’t properly accommodate a hospital gurney. Whistle-blowers from an abortion clinic in Houston have told horror stories reminiscent of Gosnell’s unspeakable practices.

Ah, there it is.  Out of all the dishonesty, none are quite as hypocritical as this.  What Gosnell was doing was illegal.  Against the law.  Already.  That is why he is in jail.  Gosnell wasn’t a monster because he was preforming legal abortion, he was a monster because he was murdering infants outside of the womb.  Want more monsters like Gosnell?  Ban abortion.

If the balance of the Democratic Party weren’t invested in protecting abortion as a kind of secular sacrament — “sacred ground,” as Nancy Pelosi calls it — it would recoil from Wendy Davis in embarrassment. Instead, it lionizes her. And why not? She exemplifies its moral and political bankruptcy on this issue.

A “secular sacrament.”  Rich Lowry and the anti-abortion zealots have no moral highground here.  They are hiding their true agenda from the majority of Americans.  Hiding it behind false concerns for the health of women with TRAP laws designed to close clinics, not make abortion safer.  They hide the TRAP laws by spending most of their time on one part of the bill, the ban at 20 weeks, a ban they support by selectively quoting only the researchers that agree with them that 20 weeks is the point where a fetus can feel pain, a view that is not held by most researchers.  The researcher that they highlight is anti-abortion, a possible conflict of interest that they do not feel the need to mention at all.

The lives of women are at stake.  The rights of women are at stake.  We absolutely are on the right side of this issue.  One does not have to be pro-abortion to be for reproductive rights.  In a perfect world, there would be no unplanned pregnancies.  We have it in our power to do what the “pro-life” zealots claim they want to do: reduce abortions.  Not by reducing access, but by fighting for universal coverage of contraception, and comprehensive sex education.  Safe, legal, and rare.  We must win this fight, for your mothers, your sisters, your daughters, your friends and lovers, your fellow humans.  No one should ever have to go to a back alley clinic again.  No Texas woman should have to go to Mexico for an abortion.  No American should have to seek out a local Gosnell because no legitimate doctor will help for fear of prosecution.  No citizen of the world should bleed to death in a hospital because the non-viable fetus inside them still has a heartbeat.  

Do not take this fight for granted.  Too much is at stake.

We’ll end with some honesty after so much obfuscation from Lowry.   The words of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

“The Texas bills set a dangerous precedent of a legislature telling doctors how to practice medicine and how to care for individual patients. ACOG opposes legislative interference, and strongly believes that decisions about medical care must be based on scientific evidence and made by licensed medical professionals, not the state or federal government,” said ACOG Executive Vice President Hal C. Lawrence, III, MD.

“The Texas bills are a compilation of over-reaching measures to control when, where, and how a woman has an abortion,” said ACOG Texas District Chair Lisa M. Hollier, MD, MPH. “The bills are not based on sound science, despite our efforts to provide the legislature with the best available medical knowledge. The bills would erode women’s health by denying the women of Texas the benefits of well-researched, safe, and proven protocols.”

The bills would ban abortion after 20 weeks and impose other widespread restrictions that would close many of the state’s abortion clinics, decrease the number of doctors who meet the additional requirements for providing outpatient abortions, and decrease access to essential women’s health care. For example, the bills would require physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, allowing abortions only in surgical clinics and setting a higher standard than for other procedures with similar low risk such as colonoscopy. The fact is that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures. The risk of complications from abortion is minimal, with less than 0.5% of abortions involving major complications.

All women, including the women of Texas, must have the legal right to abortion, unconstrained by harassment, unavailability of care, procedure bans, or other legislative or regulatory barriers, including those posed by these Texas bills.

Women should have access to all needed health care—ranging from mammograms to prenatal visits to reproductive care—that is based on scientific facts, not political ideology.

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