The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans’ hasty attacks on women show they were never pro-life

Abortion rights activists rally at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 25. (AJ Mast/AP)

Just when it seemed that forced-birth advocates could not be any more cruel or disdainful of women’s lives, Texas’s Ken Paxton stepped up to confirm this crowd is anything but pro-life. The Post reports that the Republican state attorney general “sued the Biden administration over federal rules that require abortions be provided in medical emergencies to save the life of the mother, even in states with near-total bans.”

Texas Republicans are apparently outraged by the administration’s recent reminder that under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, emergency rooms must screen, stabilize and treat patients at risk of death before transferring them to another facility. In the case of pregnancy complications (e.g., preeclampsia, premature rupture of the membranes), an emergency abortion may be recommended to prevent serious permanent injury or death. How could any public official who claims to be “pro-life” seek to impede such a lifesaving intervention?

As White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday, “This is yet another example of an extreme and radical Republican elected official. It is unthinkable that this public official would sue to block women from receiving life-saving care in emergency rooms, a right protected under U.S. law.”

Perhaps “unthinkable” is the wrong word. Defenders of women’s fundamental right to access abortion have long argued that the forced-birth crowd is not “pro-life.” History and the experiences of other countries show that when abortion is restricted, maternal mortality increases. A truly “pro-life” politician would support birth control, prenatal care, Medicaid extension, child-care subsidies and other government initiatives. By and large, the right-wing abortion cops aren’t in favor of any of that.

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Instead, forced birth has always been about controlling women and compelling them to prioritize motherhood above all other roles, regardless of any serious health conditions. No other patient in distress — and certainly no man — would ever expect lifesaving measures to hinge on doctors and hospital lawyers’ agreement on interpretation of a state law seeking to outlaw a necessary medical procedure.

Rochelle Garza, Paxton’s Democratic opponent in Texas’s attorney general race, spoke for many outraged women when she tweeted, “What he’s advocating for is femicide — the intentional killing of women by withholding life-saving care. This lawsuit does not reflect Texans’ values and we will not sit idly by while Paxton turns our state into a morgue.”

Meanwhile, the ongoing ordeal of the 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio forced to travel to Indiana to get an abortion became even more excruciating, thanks to Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita. The Republican went on Fox News on Wednesday to say his office is investigating Caitlin Bernard, the Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist who provided the abortion. “We’re gathering the evidence as we speak, and we’re going to fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure,” Rokita said. He also repeated baseless claims that Bernard had “a history of failing to report” child abuse cases.

As it turns out, Bernard filed the appropriate report in a timely manner. Her attorney said in a statement, “She has not violated any law, including patient privacy laws, and she has not been disciplined by her employer. We are considering legal action against those who have smeared my client, including Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, and know that the facts will all come out in due time.” It sounds like she has a powerful case.

Rokita’s incendiary remarks, not unlike defeated former president Donald Trump’s smear of Georgia election workers, could reasonably have been expected to unleash the right-wing mob on the doctor, either virtually or in person. The reckless attack surely added to the victim’s stress. Public targeting of a rape victim and her doctor likely will deter other victims from coming forward.

The episode is yet another example reflecting the forced-birth movement’s utter disregard for the well-being of women and girls. Rokita, like Paxton, treats them as pawns in a power grab to keep his supporters infuriated and himself in office.

It cannot be said strongly enough: In denying women have any interest in protecting their bodily integrity and intimate decision-making, the right-wing Supreme Court set up millions of women, their families, and their doctors for abuse, disrespect and physical and mental harm.

Indiana’s legislature has been called back into special session on July 25 to consider further restrictions on abortion care. Have Republicans not inflicted enough humiliation, and not endangered enough women, girls and doctors? Oh no, I fear they are only getting started.