The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans don’t disguise their indifference to human life

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) at a news briefing in Jackson, Miss., on Aug. 24. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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Republicans, sensing that they are on the cusp of revoking women’s rights to be free from compulsory pregnancy and childbirth, have given up the pretense of championing “human life.” We see more Republicans callously express their indifference to life — especially women — after birth.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Jake Tapper questioned Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser, and one of the scientists most critical to the discovery and treatment of HIV/AIDS, about accusations from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that Fauci “overhyped” AIDS and covid-19:

TAPPER: Obviously, that’s a bizarre and false assertion. President George W. Bush gave you the Presidential Medal of Freedom because of your leadership in the AIDS crisis.
But I did want to give you an opportunity to respond.
FAUCI: Jake, how do you respond to something as preposterous as that?
Overhyping AIDS? It's killed over 750,000 Americans and 36 million people worldwide. How do you overhype that? Overhyping COVID? It's already killed 780,000 Americans and over five million people worldwide.
So, I don't have any clue of what he's talking about.
TAPPER: I don’t think he does either.

But perhaps Johnson knows exactly what he is saying. The effort to downplay the consequences and seriousness of everything from the pandemic to the Jan. 6 insurrection has become part of the GOP’s gaslighting playbook. If the Jan. 6 riot — which resulted in 5 deaths and multiple serious injuries — was just “normal tourist visit” at the Capitol then the villains are the Democrats who want to investigate and punish those responsible. If the number of deaths from covid-19, as some false conspiracy theories posit, are not so significant then, once again, Democrats are the bad guys who are trying to force people to get vaccinations and wear masks. And of course, then Donald Trump is not responsible for the worst health crisis in the United States since the 1918 flu pandemic.

In short, deaths do not matter all that much if they inconveniently interfere with the “Make America Great Again” mentality that Democrats are the great threat to Western civilization. But nowhere is the disdain for human life more evident than in the abortion debate. On CNN, Tapper also interviewed Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves:

TAPPER: So the state of Mississippi also has a law in the books that would ban all abortions, with exceptions only for rape and the life of the mother, that would snap into effect — it's called a snapback law — snap into effect just days after Roe is overturned, if Roe is overturned.
If that happens, would you start enforcing that in your state, the almost complete ban, regardless of how many weeks of the pregnancy?
REEVES: Well, Jake, clearly, it is dependent upon how the court rules and exactly what those opinions allow us to do. . . . And so I just want to make sure everyone is clear that, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, that doesn’t mean that no one in America is going to have access, although that might make people like me happy.
But what it does mean is that all 50 states, the laboratories of democracy, are going to have the ability to enact their own laws with respect to abortion. And I think that's the way it should be in America.
TAPPER: So, is that a yes, that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, you will enforce the almost total abortion ban in Mississippi that exists in the inevitability or in the situation where Roe v. Wade is overturned, yes?
REEVES: Yes, Jake, that is a yes, because, if you believe, as I believe very strongly, that innocent unborn child in the mother's womb is, in fact, a child, the most important word when we talk about unborn children is not unborn, but it's children.
And so, yes, I will do everything I can to protect the lives of those children.
TAPPER: So, the country has been here before, before 1973.
And what happens in reality is, women of means are still able to get abortions, but poor women, young women, vulnerable women end up often seeking abortions in ways that can cause them severe harm, mutilation, if not death in some cases.
So, do you acknowledge that this step will result in some women and almost -- almost certainly getting seriously hurt, some even dying?
REEVES: Well, I certainly would hope that that would not be the case.

He “hopes” that women will not be maimed or die, but history tells us they will. And if that’s the price of enforcing his religious view that a fetus is a person, well so be it. Tapper also quizzed Reeves about just how committed to life his state really is:

TAPPER: So, you clearly see this move is part of a culture of life, as you have said in the past.
Mississippi, of course, ranks 50th in the country in infant mortality. Mississippi is nearly last when it comes to childhood hunger. According to a recent study of what kids need to thrive from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, looking at economic well-being and education and health and family and community, Mississippi ranks 50th out of 50 for child well-being.
How do you square those statistics about Mississippi with what you say about a culture of life?
REEVES: Well, first of all, when you -- when you look at that unborn baby in the womb, and you consider it a human being, it really changes your perspective on lots of different things.
But with respect to the statistics that you quoted, when I ran for office in and then ultimately in my first inaugural address, I made it very clear to the people in my state that I believed in my heart that I was elected not to try to hide our problems or not to try to hide our challenges, but to try to fix them. . . .
And when you look at health outcomes, whether it’s prenatal care or other areas, we have a ways to go.

“A ways to go.” This is the same governor who opposes expanding Medicaid that would pay for vital treatments for poor people and addicts in his state. He also opposes lifesaving vaccine mandates in his state. (Mississippi ranks 47th in vaccinations — and the first in deaths per 100,000 people.) If you value life (of the born), Mississippi is one of the worst places to be.

The priority for Reeves and the GOP is to force women to complete their pregnancies and give birth — even though that is exponentially more dangerous to the lives of women in his state. (The Post reports that in Mississippi it is “75 times more dangerous for women to give birth than to undergo a pre-viability abortion.”)

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Republicans are incapable of explaining the contradiction between their objection to minor inconveniences (e.g. mask-wearing, vaccinations, reasonable gun laws) to save lives and their insistence that women undergo dangerous pregnancies to protect a fetus, which they consider to be a person. On “Meet the Press,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) was stumped:

All right, so you want to see a ban on abortion. How would you enforce a ban on abortion?
You’re going to let that up to the individual states. And you might find that right mix. ...
It sounds like you're uncomfortable with figuring out how you would enforce the ban because I think that's a question. Do you criminalize abortion? Would you criminalize it?
I’m perfectly comfortable with doing it, just not at the level where everybody’s got to live with the same thing. ...
Well, I want to ask, because one of the issues, look, I originally invited you on to talk about the vaccine mandate. And you’re a vigorous opponent of the federal government’s private sector vaccine mandate. And you’re worried about the liberty of the unvaccinated. What about the liberty of the woman who doesn’t want to carry a pregnancy to term?
You might try to create that as an issue of equivalency; I don’t. In this case of a vaccine mandate — and I think clearly the turf I chose to pursue would be doing it through the Congressional Review Act.

But it is fine to allow the Supreme Court to revoke a fundamental right to an abortion in place for 50 years. Braun does not want to talk about “equivalency” because “you’re going to get into that current paradigm we’re in, to where you’re arguing about things that just divide us.” The mind reels from the lack of cogent justification for dragooning women into a forced pregnancy and mandatory childbirth.

Democrats should stop shying from a public, full-throated debate over abortion. The more Republicans talk, the more obvious it becomes that life is not the issue. This is about control of women who do not warrant the same right to bodily integrity Republicans claim for themselves. Democrats should be eager to take on Republicans’ effort to criminalize abortion and force women to undergo pregnancy and childbirth against their will. They should have no difficulty exposing the hypocrisy of a movement that would not tolerate minimal inconvenience or expense to save thousands of living individuals but would eagerly put women at risk. It would be an eye-opener for many Americans.