The 'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Ban and the War on Women's Autonomy

By Steve Chapman

May 9, 2019 6 min read

Donald Trump has endorsed a federal ban on late-term abortions, lamenting laws that, as he put it, "allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth." Trump claims falsely that doctors are allowed to "execute" babies after delivery. When Virginia Democrats tried to ease restrictions on abortions in the third trimester, Republicans said they were promoting "infanticide."

So these opponents of late-term abortion prefer that abortions take place a bit earlier? Not exactly. In 2017, the House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, forbidding abortions after 20 weeks, when the fetus allegedly can feel pain. Never mind that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says this capacity "does not, in fact, develop until late in the third trimester."

Does that legislation mean that abortions carried out before the fetus can feel pain are OK? Sorry, no. On Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill outlawing abortion once fetal cardiac activity can be detected — about six weeks into pregnancy, before some women realize they are pregnant. Five other states have passed similar measures.

But the people who portray the onset of cardiac activity as the crucial stage don't mean it. In 2011, Oklahoma banned the drug RU-486, which is used to induce miscarriage in the early weeks of pregnancy. Efforts were made to persuade the Food and Drug Administration to keep it off the market.

Then there is the "morning-after pill," a contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy if taken after unprotected sex. The opposition to this medication is based on the belief (false, as it happens) that it sometimes works by terminating a pregnancy. It's an "abortion pill," critics claim, which makes it intolerable.

These advocates oppose allowing third-trimester abortions. They oppose second-trimester abortions. They oppose first-trimester abortions and even first-day abortions. Are you seeing a pattern?

The anti-abortion movement often tailors its arguments to make a particular type of abortion seem especially objectionable and thus in urgent need of prohibition. But the real goal is undeniable. It's to eliminate almost all abortions.

Actually, for some, "almost" is not enough. Most abortion restrictions make exceptions in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the woman. But a proposed "fetal heartbeat" bill in Alabama would forbid it even for rape and incest victims. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and some "pro-life" organizations oppose an exception even when the pregnancy could be fatal to the mother.

Under existing Supreme Court precedents, most of the restrictions they favor are unconstitutional. But with the addition of Brett Kavanaugh, they have reason to hope it will sanction such bans.

That's one reason Trump appointed him. It's beyond absurd that the president, who is now hero of anti-abortion groups, is someone who in his younger days proudly called himself "very pro-choice." It was grimly comical to hear this serial adulterer, who endorses torture and is a stranger to the Bible, use his State of the Union address to call for building "a culture that cherishes innocent life" and to "reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God."

When asked in 2016 if any of his girlfriends had gotten abortions, Trump replied: "Such an interesting question. So what's your next question?"

His smug attitude captures something important about abortion. People with the means will always be able to get it. Between 1980 and 2016, when abortion was illegal in Ireland, more than 170,000 Irish women went abroad for abortions.

Others were able to end their pregnancies by getting abortion drugs shipped from other countries. It's women who lack money, knowledge or mobility who will be stymied by state laws like the one enacted in Georgia. Some of these women will resort to illegal or self-induced abortions.

Many abortion-rights opponents believe all fetal life deserves absolute protection. But that view is not shared by everyone. About 1 in 4 adult American women have had or will have an abortion.

The rational option when there are such stark differences of opinion is to let individuals make their own decisions. For the government to force women to have babies they don't want is no more legitimate than it would be to force expectant mothers to have abortions they don't want.

To use the power of government to deprive women of control over such a profound and intimate matter should give anyone pause. But those pushing these prohibitions would do it in a heartbeat.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Image courtesy of Kenneth Gill 

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