Point Austin: United Defense of the Fetus
Campaign to end abortion is a national crusade
Early in last Friday's Senate debate over the anti-abortion bill (HB 2), the bill's sponsor, Katy Republican Glenn Hegar (author of the Senate companion), was asked if anyone or "any organization" had asked him to file his bill. Hegar said no, that he had authored the bill on his own, and that he doesn't look to anyone "outside the Senate" when drafting legislation. It was a predictable question and an equally predictable answer. The question raises the specter of undue outside influence, and unless it's their direct constituents, legislators do not want to be seen as taking direction from lobbyists or special interest organizations.
Yet it doesn't take great insight to connect the dots from Hegar's bill and its House counterpart, carried by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, to the national organizations that have been promoting – indeed, drafting – this kind of legislation for legislatures across the country. Similar bills have been filed or passed in Indiana, North Dakota, North Carolina, Wisconsin, etc. According to Bloomberg Businessweek (July 11), "In the first six months of 2013, 17 states passed a total of 45 new restrictions on abortion."
That Bloomberg story is proudly posted on the website of Americans United for Life, applauding its own national campaign to influence as many legislatures as possible to pass these laws. Nor is AUL shy about the ultimate goal of the campaign: to overturn Roe v. Wade, thus once again making abortion in the U.S. entirely illegal. Over the years, Republican presidents have managed to install at least four Supreme Court justices sympathetic to the notion of overturning Roe; now all they need is the right case to finish the job. "In order for the court to actually reconsider Roe, it has to have an active case before it," AUL's vice president for governmental affairs, Daniel McConchie, told Bloomberg's Julie Hirschfeld Davis. "So we work with legislators to pass laws that will essentially spark the right kind of court challenge and give them the opportunity to reconsider the question."
Fourteen With a Bullet
The most notorious national "bill mill" is the corporate-driven American Legislative Exchange Council, which specializes in conservative economic legislation – Laubenberg, in no coincidence, is the Texas ALEC chair. In the past, ALEC occasionally promoted anti-abortion legislation, but now largely leaves that task to AUL. AUL annually issues a massive manual, Defending Life, filled with tendentious "scholarship" purporting to document such dubious notions as "fetal pain" before viability (the presumed justification for the 20-week abortion limit) and the repeatedly discredited connection between abortions and breast cancer that remains part of the Texas "Woman's Right to Know" pamphlet that must be provided by clinics to women seeking abortion. AUL also ranks states according to their success in restricting abortion; before last week's ramrodding of HB 2, Texas was 14th, so we can presume Gov. Perry can wave a higher ranking in his next failed presidential primary campaign.
The manual also features several dozen model bills, in fill-in-the-blank formats ready-made for your next legislative session. AUL applauds Texas for such AUL-inspired legislation as 24-hour waiting periods, abortion-breast-cancer misinformation, mandatory ultrasounds (omitting to note that most of these are invasive "transvaginal" procedures), parental consent laws, additional clinic regulations, defunding Planned Parenthood-"affiliated" health care clinics, promoting anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, and on, and on, and on. It also recommends further actions, at least two of which – the "Abortion Patients' Enhanced Safety Act" and the "Abortion-Inducing Drugs Safety Act" – have just been checked off the Texas list.
The Anti-Abortion Kit
These laws are part of a nationwide campaign to steadily diminish the strength of abortion rights, and, more directly and dramatically, reduce women's access to abortion and reproductive care. If the Texas law takes full effect, for example, and the majority of clinics are forced to close by the burdensome new "enhanced safety" regulations, many thousands of Texas women will simply be unable to receive safe and legal abortions. That will not, in fact, have much effect on the number of women seeking abortions; many will simply turn to unsafe or illegal procedures, and maternal injuries and deaths will increase, a consequence ignored or dismissed by anti-abortion groups.
Hegar was rather a better defender of HB 2 than its House author. He simply reiterated the cosmetic talking points and left the crazier declarations to grandstanders like Houston's Dan Patrick and New Braunfels' Donna Campbell. Laubenberg, by contrast, seemed barely to know what was in her bill, let alone its consequences. You might think someone who has pandered this issue for a decade would know, for example, what a "rape kit" is – a forensic packet for collecting evidence in an emergency room – and not remotely, as she claimed on the House floor, the equivalent of an instantaneous D&C abortion.
More generally, you would think that legislators and their allies at AUL would know that banning abortions – let alone restricting access to reproductive health care and birth control – not only does not diminish the frequency of abortions, but instead increases their likelihood, as well as the frequency of maternal complications and death. But when you've already defined a woman as little more than an incubator, it's a small step to dismiss her safety and health care as incidental to the valorized life of a "baby."
One thing is certain: Americans united for (fetal) life are not going to stop at 20 weeks, nor will they let either scientific fact or women's rights stand in their way.