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The GOP's Twenty-Week Mistake | The Nation

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Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti

Feminism, sexuality & social justice. With a sense of humor.

The GOP's Twenty-Week Mistake


Abortion rights activists hold up signs as anti-abortion demonstrators march towards the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, January 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

According to The New York Times, GOP leaders—all men—are strategizing on how to push through a Senate bill that would ban abortions after twenty weeks. Senator Marco Rubio is quoted as saying, “Irrespective of how people may feel about the issue, we’re talking about five months into a pregnancy. People certainly feel there should be significant restrictions on that.”

Well, count me as one of the many people who don’t. Before I had my daughter, anti-choicers frequently told me that once I became pregnant—once I saw an ultrasound or felt a kick—I would be against abortion. But being pregnant and becoming a parent only made me more pro-choice.

I’ve written about my fraught pregnancy elsewhere—about how I got sick and nearly died when I was twenty-eight weeks pregnant, and the subsequent struggle with my daughter’s health and my own well-being. Despite all that, I was lucky—I am fine, my daughter is fine. But if I had gotten ill a few weeks earlier, I could have been faced with ending my pregnancy to save my life. It would have been an awful, but clear, choice.

I cannot imagine being in a hospital room—devastated, frightened and confused from medication—and being told that I had to jump through legal hoops in order to get the care I needed. If you think this would be a clear-cut case—I was fatally ill—you’re wrong. At what point is a woman sick enough to qualify for one of the “exceptions” Republicans so valiantly include? Would I have needed to have eclamptic seizures first? Waited until my liver completely failed and gotten a transplant? Women have already died in this country because of laws that trump fetuses’ rights over women’s personhood—it could happen again easily.

My story is hardly unique. Women get ill, fetuses are unviable or too sick to continue with a pregnancy. And yes, some women need abortions past the twentieth week for reasons that have nothing to do with health circumstances. We live in a country that makes procuring reproductive care as difficult as possible: we give young people inaccurate and dangerous information about sex via ideologically driven abstinence-only education; 87 percent of counties in the US have no abortion provider; we deny financial assistance to the most in need and put up obstacles for younger women; one-third of women seeking abortions have to travel more than twenty-five miles to obtain one, and crisis pregnancy centers routinely lie to women about far into their pregnancy they are. Not to mention that we provide nothing in the way of support to parents—no mandated paid parental leave, no universal preschool or subsidized child care.

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The Republican war on reproductive justice is directly responsible for women’s seeking later abortions. It’s easier for anti-choicers to perpetuate a myth of callous women who cavalierly decide to end their twenty-two-week pregnancy than to admit that their cruel and punitive policies are why women don’t get the care they need earlier.

The Republican leadership may see polls on what Americans think of later abortion and think they have a winning issue here. But they’d be wrong. The GOP is so out-of-touch with what pregnancy actually looks like—how complex and nuanced women’s lives really are—that they don’t see the stories behind the numbers. They’re going to make the same miscalculation they did last year by underestimating women and the way their experiences shape their vote. Our reproductive stories are not black and white, and they’re certainly not something that can be mandated or restricted by policy. Not at two weeks, not at twenty weeks, not ever.

Wondering how feminists can make their voices heard? Listen to Jessica Valenti’s response in her newest #AskJessica video.

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