In South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, legislators have proposed bills that would arguably permit a pregnant woman’s mate or relatives (or maybe just anyone) to murder her abortion provider to protect her fetus. Although the bill was shelved in South Dakota, that state’s legislature passed (with a solid majority) a bill that would force women seeking an abortion to visit an antichoice crisis pregnancy center and then wait seventy-two hours so the message can sink in. In Georgia a state legislator wants to criminalize miscarriages—never mind that medical science knows very little about what causes miscarriage, which ends as many as one in four pregnancies, to say nothing of those precious fertilized eggbabies who are flushed out along with menstrual blood without the woman even knowing they were there. Bills restricting abortion are also under way in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Virginia, Florida, Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio—where a “Heartbeat Bill” would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected (five or six weeks after conception or, according to some antichoicers, eighteen days). Not to be outdone by the states, Congressional Republicans are up to their own antics: redefining rape as “forcible rape”; making it near impossible for people to buy health insurance with abortion coverage or for insurance plans to offer it; cutting the Title X Family Planning program for low-income families. Indiana’s Mike Pence managed to zero out funds for Planned Parenthood, and Pennsylvania’s Joe Pitts has proposed a bill that would allow hospitals receiving federal dollars to refuse to terminate a pregnancy even when necessary to save a woman’s life.
Has the GOP finally gone too far? I’ve long been skeptical of the argument that Republicans, once in power, would back away from restricting abortion for fear of waking the famous prochoice sleeping giant. That prediction assumed a monolith of single-issue prochoice voters and overlooked the way restrictions tend to work. With a few exceptions, like South Dakota’s proposed abortion bans in 2006 and ‘08, the antichoicers have become rather clever at geography and whittling: focusing on state legislatures in the most antichoice states, on aspects of abortion that don’t have a lot of popular support (so-called “partial birth abortion,” teenagers’ right to privacy), on driving clinics out of business one by one through targeted regulations and passing laws that seem reasonable on their face (why not punish the murder of a pregnant woman as a double killing?) but when taken together would build up the legal case for overturning Roe. Not many people are going to get active because there is now only one clinic in Mississippi when fifteen years ago there were six. Unless you’re deeply versed in abortion realities, a twenty-four-hour waiting period may not seem like much of a burden.
But you know what the Bible says about pride. Puffed up with their triumph in the 2010 elections—and worried about keeping their ever more reactionary base on board—Republicans at the state and federal level are letting their misogyny, their fundamentalism and their sheer nuttiness show. When Congress gets rid of federal funds for birth control for low-income women and antichoice activist Janet Porter gets two fetuses to “testify” at a hearing on the Ohio “Heartbeat Bill” by projecting their ultrasound images on a screen in living color, a shark has been seriously jumped. What’s next—a vial of talking sperm? (Porter is not some marginal loony by the way; she was a co-chair of Mike Huckabee’s Faith and Family Values coalition during his 2008 campaign.) And maybe—just maybe—the sleeping giant is opening its eyes.
On Saturday, February 26, demonstrations were held all around the nation in support of Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights. I went to the one at Foley Square in Manhattan. It was a lively gathering, and a pretty packed one too—according to the Gothamist website, 6,000 people were there. Lots of young people, belying the stereotype that twentysomethings take reproductive rights for granted. Lots of men. A stellar lineup of speakers, including Chuck Schumer, Kathleen Turner, Amanda Marcotte and the fiery Anthony Weiner. Lots of funny signs: Sex Happens. More Weiner Less Boehner and (on a giant pink penis) Why Are the Republicans Such Dicks??
Yes, why? Not content with depriving women of reproductive healthcare, House Republicans want to starve them and their children too. Their budget cuts the Women, Infants and Children Health and Nutrition program by $750 million and Head Start by $1 billion. It cuts $50 million from a block grant that pays for prenatal healthcare for 2.5 million low-income women and healthcare for 31 million children each year. As Charles Blow writes in the New York Times, proposed cuts to medical research strike directly at efforts to roll back the US infant mortality rate, now the highest among advanced economies. The Republicans seem bent on proving the truth of the bitter joke that “prolifers” care about children only before they are born. As for caring about women? Even as fetal vessels, the ladies just don’t count. After all, one in five women has visited a Planned Parenthood clinic—often for routine gynecological care. Is the GOP going to set up a replacement network of clinics to provide Pap smears and breast exams and STD testing and such? Or is Jesus now the national gynecologist? What on earth is the matter with these people?
Of course, it’s possible that the real point is to throw buckets of spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. Even if most of these bills fail and the worst cuts don’t happen, the terms of debate will have shifted away from reproductive care as a social good. At the Los Angeles Times, Patt Morrison urges prochoicers to send a donation to Planned Parenthood in honor of Mike Pence and Joe Pitts—and drop them a note to let them know. It’s a great idea. The way things are going, Planned Parenthood will need every cent.