July 2, 2013
Misrepresenting Women On Abortion

Kirsten Powers is not happy about the support garnered by Wendy Davis for her opposition to a recent Texas bill that would’ve banned abortion past 20 weeks.  

Wendy Davis has achieved the dubious victory of maintaining a very dark status quo. Texas women will still be able to abort a healthy baby up to the 26th week of pregnancy for any reason,as the current law allows.

According to the Parents Connect website, if you are in the 25th week of your pregnancy, “Get ready for pat-a-cake! Baby’s hands are now fully developed and he spends most of his awake time groping around in the darkness of your uterus. Brain and nerve endings are developed enough now so that your baby can feel the sensation of touch.” Let’s be clear: Davis has been called a hero for trying to block a bill that would make aborting this baby illegal.

And rightly so, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute.  Powers continues by citing statistics that indicate the majority of Americans don’t “stand with Wendy” either:

According to a June National Journal poll, 50 percent of women support, and 43 percent oppose, a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, except in cases of rape and incest.

One can assume I am also not the only woman in America who is really tiring of the Wendys of the world claiming to represent “women’s rights” in their quest to mainstream a medical procedure—elective late-term abortion—that most of the civilized world finds barbaric and abhorrent. In many European countries, you can’t get an abortion past 12 weeks, except in narrow circumstances. Gallup reported in January that 80 percent of Americans think abortion should be illegal in the third trimester, and 64 percent think it should be illegal in the second trimester.

These statistics are not all that compelling.  The majority of Americans, at one point or another, have supported policies that turned out to be morally abhorrent when judged by the standards of later generations.  Anti-miscegenation laws come to mind.  Sodomy laws that were selectively enforced against gays.  The Death Penalty continues to be supported by a majority of Americans, despite being abandoned in the rest of the civilized world.  In other words, these statistics offer far less support for Powers’ argument than she thinks.  Just because the majority of people agree with your point of view at a particular time and place does not mean it is a morally “correct” point of view.

Powers continues:

If the majority of Americans oppose elective late-term abortion, why do we have Davis complaining to CBS’s Bob Schieffer that the male politicians who are championing the late-term abortion ban are “bullying women”? Maybe it’s she who is bullying the rest of us into supporting a view that is mocked by scientific advancement; namely 3-D sonograms. Maybe we should be thankful for the men and wonder what is wrong with the women who think protecting the right to abort your baby for any reason up to the 26th week is a “human right.”

Nothing is wrong with those women, of course.  Many of them are simply familiar with facts that Powers has neglected to mention.

First, Powers’ claim that her view is backed by “scientific advancement” is a little absurd when, as I’ve stated elsewhere, you take into account the fact that the generally-agreed-upon point of viability for a fetus is around 24 weeks.  And even at that point, “the incidence of disabilities remains high.”  Neonatologists generally will not even provide intensive, life-saving care to a fetus that is born prior to 23 weeks because it is unlikely that the child will survive even with the aid of medical attention.

Second, the statistics that Powers’ cites are misleading.  I imagine that many of the poll respondents who opposed elective late-term abortions opposed them under the assumption that women seeking a medically necessary abortion will be able to obtain one.  Yet one wonders how the poll results would change if respondents were asked a different set of questions.  

For example, how many people would support a ban on elective late term abortions if they knew that doctors might refuse to perform legitimate abortions out of fear that they’ll be scrutinized (perhaps illegitimately) by law enforcement?  That’s essentially what has happened in states like Mississippi, where extreme restrictions on access to abortion have left most of the state without access to an abortion provider.

And what if poll respondents were told about the "elective abortion" of Danielle Deaver, a Nebraska woman who, at 22 weeks, was forced to watch her premature child suffocate as a result of Nebraska’s misguided “fetal pain” law:

Deaver, 34, and her husband planned the pregnancy and wanted a second child, she said.

Their dreams ended tragically when they learned, shortly before the premature birth, that the pregnancy could not go to term and that the fetus had virtually no chance to survive. She was in her 22nd week of pregnancy when her water broke…

…Doctors said there was less than a 10 percent chance the fetus would have a heartbeat and the capacity to breathe at birth. If it lived, there was perhaps a 2 percent chance that it  ever would be able function on the most basic level.

After consulting with doctors, the Deavers decided it would be more humane to terminate the pregnancy than to allow the child to be born, merely to suffer for a few brief moments before dying after birth.  Nebraska’s anti-abortion law, however, prevented that from happening:

…After consulting attorneys, doctors told Deaver and her husband that the Nebraska law prohibited an abortion in their case. She had to wait, give birth, and watch the infant die.

Nebraska’s new abortion law forced Danielle Deaver to live through ten excruciating days, waiting to give birth to a baby that she and her doctors knew would die minutes later, fighting for breath that would not come.

And that’s what happened. The one-pound, ten-ounce girl, Elizabeth, was born December 8th. Deaver and husband Robb watched, held and comforted the baby as it gasped for air, hoping she was not suffering. She died 15 minutes later.

This is what happens when you place the government between women and the decision to abort a child at any point during the pregnancy.  Kirsten Powers and the “majority” of Americans who oppose elective late-terms abortions are probably only thinking of situations where a healthy baby is being terminated by a feckless mother, for whom the thought of raising a child is a mere “inconvenience.”  But it’s not always that simple.  Powers et al. apparently can’t conceive of a situation where a doctor might refuse to perform an otherwise legitimate abortion out of fear of being subject to scrutiny by law enforcement.  Or a situation where the supposedly “elective” nature of an abortion forces a mother and father to watch their premature child die the second it is born, like Danielle Deaver and her husband.

No abortion law, no matter how carefully drafted, can possibly account for every situation in which a woman who carries a pregnancy past 20 weeks might have a legitimate reason to seek an abortion.  Medical science is not exact, and situations always arise where the risk of death or serious injury—to either mother or fetus—is nebulous enough to make doctors hesitant.  Furthermore, not every pregnancy complication is discovered prior to 20 weeks of gestation.  To assume that this cut-off point is somehow appropriate or “backed by scientific advancement” is ludicrous.  

Furthermore, Powers completely fails to address the ethical calculus of her argument.  Even with an exception for the life and health of the mother, how high must a woman’s risk of death or serious injury be before she is allowed to abort a child past 20 weeks?  50%?  25%?  5%?  1%?  The Texas law opposed by Wendy Davis does not say (nor do most laws like it).  

More importantly, what gives Powers the right to decide the above question on someone else’s behalf?  Powers has no more moral right to decide what the appropriate level of risk for death or serious injury in pregnancy is than she has the ethical right to force someone to stand on railroad tracks while a train is coming through. In the latter case, we certainly would not say that it matters whether the chances of a train coming are 50%, 25%, 5%, or 1%.

Were all of these things made plain to the poll respondents mentioned by Powers, I imagine the numbers would look a little differently.  Furthermore, people who oppose abortion restrictions past 20 weeks are not interested in making 100% elective abortions a “human right.”  They are interested in protecting the lives of women, and furthermore, in protecting the right of doctors and parents to determine for themselves when it is appropriate to end a pregnancy without the risk of a police officer showing up at their door, or being forced by the Government to carry a non-viable pregnancy to term.  

In short, Powers is misrepresenting women, and misrepresenting Wendy Davis’s supporters.  She’s entitled to her beliefs, of course.  But she is not entitled to her own facts.  And in this case, she’s left them out in spades.

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