2011: Year of Anti-Choice Extremism

Though the Tea Party-backed Republicans who stormed into the House and into state legislatures around the country promised to focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility, the reality is that they have instead pushed an anti-choice agenda that is absolutely breathtaking in the sheer number and scope of the bills proposed (and often passed). ThinkProgress has just a few examples:

– Redefining Rape: Last May, every House Republican and 16 anti-choice Democrats passed H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act. Anti-choice activists Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) tried to narrow the definition of rape to “forcible rape,” which meant that women who say no but do not physically fight off the assault; women who are drugged or verbally threatened and raped; and minors impregnated by adults would not qualify for the rape and incest exception in the Hyde Amendment. Smith promised to remove the language but used “a sly legislative maneuver” that essentially informs the courts that statutory rape cases will not be covered by Medicaid should the law pass and be challenged in court.

– Abortion Audits: The No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act also bans using tax credits or deductions to pay for abortions or insurance. Thus, a woman who used such a benefit would have to prove, if audited, that her abortion “fell under the rape/incest/life-of-the-mother exception, or that the health insurance she had purchased did not cover abortions.” This requirement turns the Internal Revenue Service into “abortion cops” who, agents noted, would have to force women to give “contemporaneous written documentation” that it was “incest, or rape, or [her] life was in danger” which made an abortion necessary.

– Let Women Die: This October, House Republicans also passed the “Protect Life Act”, known by women’s health advocates as the “Let Women Die” bill. The measure allows hospitals that receive federal funds to reject any woman in need of an abortion procedure, even if it is necessary to save her life. Though federal law already prohibits federal funding of abortions, the GOP insisted that the health care law “contains a loophole that allows those receiving federal subsidies to use the money to enroll in health care plans that allow abortion services.”

– Personhood: Mississippi entertained the idea of passing a “personhood” amendment to its constitution this year, one that defines a person as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.” The measure’s “profoundly ambiguous” language regarding the definition of fertilization not only would ban all abortions, it could potentially outlaw birth control, stem cell research, and in vitro fertilization for couples struggling to conceive. Mississippians rejected the amendment but personhood activists are making headway with versions for other states and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is championing a national personhood amendment.

– Race/Sex Abortions: Taking their queue from Arizona, House Republicans introduced the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) — a so-called “civil rights” bill that bans physicians from performing abortions based on the fetus’s race or sex. The problem of selective abortion is virtually non-existent, as not one state official or independent research offered any evidence of race-based abortions. Only 5 percent of abortions occur after the point when a fetus’s sex can be determined. Arizona’s measure, now law, sends doctors and clinicians to jailfor three years if they knowingly provide such abortions. The federal bill PRENDA allows for civil suits against the physicians.

All of this is done with one hope, which is that the current Supreme Court would uphold those restrictions or — their dream scenario — even vote to overturn Roe v Wade and thus push abortion back into the alleys. We know how close this was to happening before. They had the five votes necessary to do so in 1992 until Justice Kennedy was persuaded by Justices O’Connor and Souter to change his mind, but Kennedy has since made clear that while he won’t overturn the central holding of Roe, he will gladly go along with most restrictions the legislature can think of on that right.

This is another area where I think, as bad as the Democrats can be and as bad as Obama has been on so many important issues, it is important to prevent the Republicans from retaking the White House. At least one of the next two vacancies on the Supreme Court are likely to come from the liberal side of the court, most obviously Justice Ginsburg. If a Republican replaces her, Roe is history. Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito would vote to overturn it without a moment’s hesitation.

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  • abb3w

    Looking at the GSS, it doesn’t appear that the attitudes are changing by much. Some of that may shift as the fraction of the unaffiliated grows (as they’ve tended to be more accepting of abortion), but this will probably be an active front in the culture war for at least another three decades.

    One anomaly: younger cohorts seem to be increasingly disapproving of the notion aborting a fetus due to “birth” defects (though more accurately termed genetic or terratogenic defects in such a case).

  • d cwilson

    Hey, remember during the 2010 election when we were told repeatedly that the Tea Party was an all-new, grassroots movement that was totally focused on spending, taxes, and other economic issues and was in no way affiliated with old guard social conservative moment? Remember how we were told again and again that they weren’t interested in refighting the cultural war?

    How’d that work out?

  • JustaTech

    This feels like something Feminist Hulk should say but: Why the hell are any men even part of this conversation? Hello, can’t have one, so buzz off.

    Is there any area of medicine so filled with legislative nonsense as women’s reproductive health? No lawmaker cares this much about your appendix, your kidneys, your cancer, your broken wrist. But as soon as there are lady-bits involved, freak out!

    I hope that every one of the lawmakers involved in writing or passing any of these bills is educated about women’s reproductive issues in a most immediate manner. Or spontaniously combusts, which is more likely.

  • Makoto

    @3 JustaTech – I may not be able to have a kid due to being a guy, but I do everything I can to defend a woman’s right to have an abortion.

    I don’t want anyone to be forced to carry a fetus to term that they can’t handle at that point in their lives – doesn’t matter if it’s financial, due to schooling or jobs, because the father left, because it’s health related, or whatever. It’s far more important that anyone who wants to go through with a pregnancy can have the care they need (during and after), rather than focusing on anyone who decides, for whatever reason, that they can’t properly do it right now.

  • d cwilson

    Well, let’s be honest. If we guys could carry a fetus to term, abortion would have been in the Bill of Rights.

  • cptdoom

    Deja vu all over again. I was 4 in 1971 when my mother was denied an abortion in Massachusetts – by a judge no less – because she was not “close enough to death” to qualify under the Mass law at the time. Ironically, the damage from the spontaneous abortion she was already having (aka “miscarriage,” although that language is clinically inappropriate), which would have been minimized had the induced abortion been allowed, prevented her from having any more children (she was 32 at the time). Thus the anti-abortion laws actually prevented at least one additional birth. Idiots.

  • alwayscurious

    Without an abortion, my grandmother would have died in her first pregnancy…my father was her second pregnancy so I’m alive today because of abortion.

    But besides that, who cares what people do with their tax credits, deductions or subsidies? If Joe Plumber qualified for it, it becomes his money as soon as the government writes the check. It hurts me as much as the next person when individuals waste their EIC or unemployment check, but the government doesn’t make a special effort to hunt down people who spent such checks on illegal drugs, alcohol, junk food, cosmetic surgery, or employing illegal immigrants. So why should they jump in and do it for abortion?

  • harold

    Justatech –

    This feels like something Feminist Hulk should say but: Why the hell are any men even part of this conversation? Hello, can’t have one, so buzz off.

    The percentage of men who support abortion rights is not much lower than the percentage of women who support abortion rights.


    The argument that men are significantly more likely to be anti-abortion because they don’t have to worry about getting pregnant is factually wrong.

    It is an intuitively reasonable sounding hypothesis, but it turns out to be factually wrong.

    It is possible that these results are mildly biased by the fact that there are more very elderly women than very elderly men, but they are what they are. It is also true that men are more likely to support Republicans, despite men’s apparent near-equal support for reproductive rights. Still, on that issue directly, men do not differ much from women.

    Furthermore, there are many, many women prominent in the religious right. Michele Bachmann is one of the most anti-abortion members of congress and is running for president, for example.

    Thus, inaccurate blaming of “men” for a political stance that is not particularly gender associated provides no benefit.

    I completely agree with the other parts of your comment.

  • organon

    Well said.

  • amavra

    My experiences agree that men don’t seem particularly more likely to be anti-choice than women. Most men I know either don’t comment much on abortion, or are hesitantly against it but not vocally in favor of legal restrictions. Then there is the subset that likes to argue against abortion in the abstract, unable to move past the idea that a fertilized egg is a human being, or that abortions are frequently being done at 8 months because the pregnant person suddenly decides to get one. Those who argue this way seem to be men most of the time (they are common talking points for anti-choice either way of course).

    The anti-choice women I know are always sharing stories that are supposed to be inspirational (??) like one that went around my facebook about a teenager who was pregnant, got cancer but didn’t take the chemo because it was too dangerous for the “baby”, gave birth a month early and died. This story is probably fabrication anyhow, but I still don’t understand how it is an inspiring “pro-life” message in any way. Pre-mature infant is born with no parents, enters foster care and only adopted if white and healthy. Praise Jebus.

    I guess what I am trying to say is in online arguments it often seems like anti-choice people are more often men because the anti-choice camp generally abides by prescribed gender roles in which women don’t go out arguing so much as “testifying” and being an example of sacrifice etc etc. In practice the anti-choice women probably have more influence on the public, with public speakers and “crisis pregnancy centers” being staffed mainly with women.

  • dingojack

    Whilst looking for a more recent poll about abortion* I found these:

    ABC News/Washinton Post Poll April 22-25,2010.

    N = 1001 Adults nationwide. MoE = ±3.5%

    The Supreme Court legalized abortion 37 years ago in the ruling known as Roe versus Wade. If that case came before the court again, would you want the next justice to vote to uphold Roe versus Wade, or vote to overturn it?” [Options rotated]

    Uphold: 59%; overturn: 38%; unsure: 3%

    CBS News/New York Times Poll April 5-12, 2010.

    N = 1580 Adults nationwide. MoE = ±3%

    “More than 35 years ago, the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe versus Wade established a constitutional right for women to obtain legal abortions in this country. In general, do you think the Court’s decision was a good thing or a bad thing?”

    April 5-12, 2010

    Good thing: 58%; Bad thing: 34%; Both(vol): 3%; Unsure 5%

    June 12-16, 2009

    Good thing: 62%; Bad thing: 32%; Both(vol): 3%; Unsure 3%

    Quinnipac University Poll Jan 5-11, 2010.

    N = 1767 Registered voters nationwide. MoE = ±2.3%

    “Do you support or oppose allowing abortions to be paid for by public funds under a health care reform bill?”

    Support: 27%; oppose: 67%; unsure: 6% Jan 5-11, 2010

    Support: 23%; oppose: 72%; unsure: 5% Dec 15-20, 2009




    * broken down into men vs women with N values, so I could do a χ² analysis to gauge if there is any significant difference between the two groups on this issue. I couldn’t find such a poll.

  • abb3w

    @11, dingojack:

    Whilst looking for a more recent poll about abortion* I found these:


    broken down into men vs women with N values, so I could do a χ² analysis to gauge if there is any significant difference between the two groups on this issue. I couldn’t find such a poll.

    The GSS has more than a few questions about abortion over the years; the most recent that data is available for is 2010. Questions for 2010 included ABANY (possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion for any reason), ABHLTH (for health of the mother), ABRAPE (pregnancy resulting from rape), ABSINGLE (the woman isn’t married), ABNOMORE (the mother is married, but doesn’t want more kids), ABDEFECT (strong chance of defect), ABPOOR (family can’t afford kids). Berkeley’s interface tool will cough up N values, along with lots of other shiny bits.

    The most significant looking difference is for cases of rape, where men are much more likely to approve of allowing abortion. Playing with Berkely’s Logit tool, this looks to be mostly associated with religious differences (acceptance of the Bible, strength of religious identification, frequency of religious attendance, degree of belief in God) between the sexes. Once you pull out the significance associated with those, sex isn’t much more significant than Zodiac sign.

  • lofgren

    The availability of abortion has a huge impact on men as well as women, unless you are a man who doesn’t associate with women. I have a wife, mother, and sister. I have many female friends. Statistically, at least one – probably more – has had an abortion.

    Meanwhile at a societal level, the availability of abortion is impactful on men in the same way that the availability of public education or day care is impactful on childless people, or unemployment insurance is impactful on people who manage to retain their jobs their whole lives.

    And let’s not forget that at least one man was involved in the conception of that pregnancy. Even if the final decision to give birth or abort is the woman’s by irrefutable natural right, it’s not as though the father just takes a nap for nine months between the conclusion of sex and the commencement of child support payments. Her decision – and her ability to safely abort or give birth – has a pretty huge impact on the rest of his life as well.

    This discussion has some pretty wide-reaching implications. It’s not just about your “ladybits.”

  • momoelektra

    Personhood: Mississippi entertained the idea of passing a “personhood” amendment to its constitution this year, one that defines a person as “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”

    Doesn’t that mean every women who has a miscarriage has to be investigated for possibility of culpable homicide?

    I think I’m feeling sick…

  • dingojack

    momoelektra – What now? The Religious Right Retards support cloning? Say it ain’t so, say it ain’t so!!!


  • betasattva

    The heated argument about abortions is simply a smoke screen to keep people from noticing the bipartisan-corporate oligarchy robbing us blind.

  • carolw

    I always wondered, somewhat seriously, does it count as the mother’s life being in danger if she says “I’ll kill myself if I’m forced to carry this baby. Let me have an abortion”?

  • James C.

    @betasattva #16

    The heated argument about abortions is simply a smoke screen to keep people from noticing the bipartisan-corporate oligarchy robbing us blind.

    I hope you’re not implying that abortion is a manufactured controversy, because that’s completely daft.

    If anything, you have it backwards. Tea Party candidates ran on annoyance at the aforementioned oligarchy (at least they claimed to,) but that wound up being a smokescreen for anti-choice and anti-woman nonsense.

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