The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s the cruelty that will undo the forced-birth crusade

Protesters rally in support of abortion rights July 2 in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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When abortion rights advocates accused abortion foes of being disturbingly indifferent to women and even aspiring to cruelly force women to give birth, they were labeled hysterics or exaggerators. But now, just as they were proved correct about the right’s ambition to reverse Roe v. Wade, these advocates can say they had the forced-birth crowd pegged all along. The proof is already here.

Two Republican governors, Kristi L. Noem of South Dakota and Tate Reeves of Mississippi, were asked on Sunday news talk shows about the case of a 10-year-old girl impregnated by her rapist. Are they really insisting that, regardless of the physical harm that giving birth could cause someone so young, the child be further tormented and forced to have the baby? Yes.

Reeves said these are such a “small, minor” number of cases. He wouldn’t say there should be an exception. Noem defended forced birth, insisting, “I don’t believe a tragic situation should be perpetuated by another tragedy.” The tragedy of forcing a 10-year-old to undergo a pregnancy and the pain of childbirth does not register with Noem.

These are not anomalies. Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) said, soon after the decision overturning Roe was announced, that, in his view, a 12-year-old impregnated by incest should be forced to complete her pregnancy. Herschel Walker, a Republican nominee for Senate in Georgia, would agree apparently since he wants no exceptions. Not even to save the woman’s life. Ohio state Rep. Jean Schmidt has called forcing a 13-year-old rape victim to give birth an “opportunity.”

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Indeed, the number of states contemplating abortion bans with no exception for rape or incest might shock you. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards — a Democrat — just signed an abortion law with no exception for rape or incest. In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) seemed open to making an exception, but its absence won’t slow down implementation of the abortion ban in his state.

The New York Times reports, “There are no allowances for victims of rape or incest in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee or Texas.” In Idaho, a woman would have to file a police report to obtain an abortion, something virtually impossible for incest victims and others who live in fear of their attackers.

Marc Thiessen

counterpointThe pro-life movement needs to move cautiously in purple states

The monstrous cruelty of such bills shows how little many conservatives care about the well-being of women and girls who have already experienced the unbelievable trauma of sexual violence.

But it gets worse. Many states no longer consider exceptions for the health of the woman or create dangerous uncertainty that puts her life at risk. In the real medical world, where doctors and patients make decisions based on probabilities, the result of such abortion laws can be deadly for women. If abortion is legal only with the “imminent” risk of death, women can be left in peril, facing what can become fatal complications later in pregnancy — when the chances of survival have declined.

In Tennessee, for example, doctors are supposed to prove the woman couldn’t have lived without an abortion. (They must prove “the abortion was necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”)

NBC News reports:

Arizona’s 15-week abortion ban provides exceptions for emergencies when continuing the pregnancy will “create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” for the mother. Oklahoma’s recent ban, the most restrictive in the country, is focused on life-threatening situations.
Mental health is almost never seen as enough of a reason to justify an abortion under the laws, said Carol Sanger, professor of law at Columbia University and the author of “About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in 21st-Century America.”

Republican candidates for governor in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin joined with antiabortion groups to seek bans “that would not allow the procedure even if the mother’s health were endangered,” The Post reports.

Forced-birth advocates can hardly be called “pro-life” when they are willing to gamble with the lives and health of women. To say women will die because of abortion laws or will suffer untold harm, both mental and physical, is not hyperbole. It’s reality for women who are now deprived of the right to make their own decision about their health and even their lives.

When you treat women like less than competent adults, and insist that others, who may have little or no competency, weigh the risks to their health and lives, you wind up not with a culture of life but a culture of devaluing women’s lives.