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Senator compares protections for fetuses, sea turtle eggs in abortion speech

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said May 10 that an unhatched sea turtle would have more protections than an unborn human baby if Roe v. Wade were to be codified. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Standing by a poster showing turtle hatchlings next to babies, Sen. Steve Daines (R) on Tuesday argued that under a bill proposed by Democrats, the eggs of sea turtles and eagles would have more protections than human fetuses.

During a speech on the Senate floor, the Montana lawmaker spoke out against a bill that, if passed, would guarantee the right to abortion under federal law — the latest attempt by Democrats to protect abortion access following the leak of a Supreme Court draft decision that showed the court is poised to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

The proposed bill, Daines said, would leave a fetus with fewer legal protections than certain animal eggs.

“If you were to take or destroy the eggs of a sea turtle, the criminal penalties are severe,” he said. “Why do we have laws in place that protect the eggs of a sea turtle or the eggs of eagles? Because when you destroy an egg, you’re killing a preborn baby sea turtle or a preborn baby eagle.”

Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940, deliberately destroying — or even disturbing — a bald eagle’s egg or nest carries a $100,000 fine and a sentence of up to a year in prison for a first offense, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sea turtles are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. In Florida — which provides further safeguards — any act against a sea turtle’s nest and eggs is considered a third-degree felony, wielding a penalty of $100 per egg.

But the senator’s analogy sparked outrage on social media, where a clip of Daines’s speech from C-SPAN had nearly 1 million views by Wednesday morning.

Emmy Bengtson, a Democratic strategist, wrote on Twitter that “sea turtles and eagles don’t have constitutional rights as equal citizens of the United States.”

“When sea turtles are attacked something is actually done and people are held criminally responsible,” California Democratic congressional candidate Eric Garcia wrote. “Women on the other hand are called liars and get their Human Rights taken away.”

Daines did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Wednesday. However, in a statement to Newsweek, his press secretary Rachel Dumke said that “if the liberal elites and far Left cared as much about unborn human babies than they do about baby sea turtles, America would be better off.”

The status of reproductive rights in the United States has been challenged over the past year following a slew of laws restricting abortion in states like Texas, Mississippi, Ohio and Arkansas. Since then, more states — either emboldened or alarmed by the prospect of a future without Roe v. Wade — have taken action, proposing sanctuary plans or further limitations to abortion.

Supreme Court is ready to strike down Roe v. Wade, leaked draft shows

Several states led by Republicans have passed trigger bans that would make no exceptions for abortions in the case of rape or incest, The Post reported. Others have proposed criminalizing abortion or classifying the procedure as homicide. So far, 22 bills restricting abortion access have been introduced in legislatures around the country, according to The Post’s abortion legislation tracker.

After Politico published the Supreme Court’s draft opinion last week, Democrats have been scrambling to protect abortion rights. In Congress, a final vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act — which would codify abortion protections into federal law — is slated for Wednesday, although the bill is all but certain to fail, The Post reported. At least 60 votes are required for Democrats to override a filibuster — meaning 10 Republican senators would have to join in supporting the bill.

“This week the Senate will be confronted with a simple but urgent question: Do women in this country have a basic right to make their own choices when it comes to seeking an abortion?” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday. “Yes or no.”

Daines, meanwhile, called the bill “radical,” saying on Twitter that “an unhatched sea turtle would have more protections than an unborn human baby.”

“Is that the America the Left wants?” Daines added in a tweet accompanied by his graphic splashed with turtles and babies.