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Point Austin: In Defense of Women's Rights

The GOP does battle for a government of men, not laws

By Michael King, Fri., June 21, 2013

The spectacle of grown men (and it is mostly men) attempting to impose on the general public (in this instance, mostly women) their private notions of sexual and medical morality is not without occasional comedy. The Boob of The Week is Texas Congressman Michael Burgess, R-Lewis­ville, who informed a House committee considering an anti-abortion "fetal pain" bill that the proposed 20-week gestation limit should be even earlier, because he claims to have seen sonograms of fetuses 15 weeks or earlier ... masturbating.

"If they're a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs," reported Burgess, who indeed was formerly an ob-gyn, and whose eyesight (or febrile imagination) must be truly remarkable. "If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?"

That Burgess found it necessary to specify the gender of his fanciful fetuses – in the doc's feverish dreamworld, females would presumably be too demure to pleasure themselves, at least on camera – only reinforces the absurdity of his entirely unscientific assertion. "Fetal pain" is the latest anti-abortion invention to enable Repub­lican lawmaking, and Burgess' peculiar form of sexist pseudo-science is a ridiculous but useful reminder that the attack on abortion rights is partly founded on willful ignorance of female sexuality. Burgess has never been the brightest bulb in Congress; indeed, earlier he led an idiotic struggle to preserve our "right to choose" ... 100-watt lightbulbs. It's a mixed blessing that he gave up medicine for the House Tea Party Caucus – at least his former patients will no longer have an imbecile for a doctor.

Nevertheless, this week the House indeed passed its fetal pain bill, banning abortions after 20 weeks. It was a purely symbolic exercise; the Senate will likely never consider the bill, let alone enact it, but the GOP-dominated House – having voted to "repeal" Obamacare several dozen times, to no effect – prefers playing political games to actually doing anything useful.

Back to the Alleys

Unintentional comedy in the halls of Congress often turns to manufactured tragedy in women's lives. Jordan Smith reported the testimony of Carole Metcalf ("Play­ing Games With Pain," Newsdesk, April 15), who told a Texas House committee that she learned only at the 20th week of gestation of the terminal and incurable illness of her fetus. Had a "fetal pain" law been in place in Texas, Metcalf would have been forced to carry the infant to term – in order to watch it die. Mandatory legislated time limits on medical procedures are not only ignorant but cruel; they impose abstract ideological standards on particular, personal matters of life and death, and in this context, they routinely and cynically value the life of a fetus above that of a mother.

On Tuesday, shortly after the U.S. House was enacting its fetal folly, the Texas Senate was following Gov. Rick Perry's mandate that the special session reconsider anti-abortion bills that couldn't be passed under regular session rules. For some reason – perhaps a twinge of conscience, but more likely for political expediency – Katy Sen. Glenn Hegar's SB 5 dropped the fetal pain provision to focus instead on procedural restrictions that would make it nearly impossible for most Texas women to access safe, legal abortions.

For make no mistake, abortions will persist in Texas, as they did in the years before Roe v. Wade. Texas women will simply be forced to find underground, illegal ways to receive the medical care that is theirs by natural and constitutional right. Wealthy women will do so easily, and privately, traveling outside Texas if necessary; less fortunate women will do so however they can, and many will die or be mutilated in the process.

The War Goes On

There are certainly significant numbers of people who truly oppose abortions on moral or religious grounds. They are free to campaign against it, and to try to persuade the rest of us – both an actual and legal majority – to their position. What they should not be free to do is impose their personal convictions on the entire community, especially in the guise of unnecessary and burdensome regulations that humiliate and injure women, and force doctors to practice politics instead of medicine.

I frankly have little patience for purported adults who insist there is no substantive difference between a first- or second-term fetus and a "baby." There is even less reason to indulge cynical politicians whose primary and transparent motivation is pandering to a fanatical minority of voters who would very cheerfully impose their personal religious beliefs on all their neighbors. We should not be governed by the values of the meanest and most censorious among us.

Abortion rights are women's rights, and abortion decisions are entirely a private matter belonging to a woman, her family, and her physician. The state has absolutely no business or right to interfere in those difficult decisions, and the party of "limited government" is supremely hypocritical on this subject. Given a chance to expand health care for women and Texans generally, the governor and Republican-dominated Texas Legislature decided to pass the buck to the federal government and let millions of Texans do without. Now, they would even further restrict women's rights to legal health care. As Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis put it, "The war on women is apparently alive and well in Texas. Just days after Governor Perry vetoed legislation requiring equal pay for equal work for women, the Texas Senate has decided to dramatically decrease access to health care and harm Texas women. Texas women deserve better treatment than they are getting from their government."

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