Limiting Abortions after 20 Weeks: Where’s the Line?

I’ll start with some good news: HB 954, the bill in Georgia that I ranted about in my previous post, was struck down when House Republicans refused to approve the compromises put in place by the Senate, including the clause that stated abortions could be performed after 20 weeks if the pregnancy was deemed “medically futile.” To paraphrase Reality Check, it’s great that Georgia women aren’t affected by this law, but it’s sad that the only reason it was struck down was because Republicans refused to accept even the not-so-compromising compromise.

But here is what I wanted to talk about today: I’ve been having some discussions with a friend of mine over these bills, and whether or not I should be as outraged as I am. In her defense, she doesn’t support any of this legislation, but as a (soon-to-be) mother of two, she obviously understands the stages of pregnancy better than I do and has done a good job of playing a bit of the devil’s advocate. While my first inclination is always to run away with my hands in my ears, I commend her for trying to make me consider these pieces of legislation from a more logical standpoint, as opposed to my usual immediate emotional reaction (what I refer to as a ragestroke).

So she got me thinking. Only 1.4% of abortions occur after 20 weeks already, and the majority of these are for medical reasons that are allowed by the legislation, so how restrictive would these bills really be? After some research, I have decided that these bills still are, at least to me, unacceptable, and for two reasons.

1.) Seven states currently ban abortion after 20 weeks: Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. Arizona and New Hampshire both voted in favor of similar bans last week. All of these bills are based on the dubious assumption that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, and all do include exceptions for when an abortion is deemed necessary to save the life of the woman.

Two issues with this: first of all, every single one of these states is violating the Supreme Court decisions on fetal viability, and the Constitution itself. (Sidebar: the hypocrisy of this is mind-blowing. You could make a drinking game of how often Republicans mention their love for the Constitution). In 1973, the SCOTUS ruled the following:

  • States cannot prohibit abortions “necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman.” Health includes mental health, something that is not included in the states’ exemptions. This is also meant to cover women who are past the point of fetal viability, which is currently accepted as after 24 weeks.
  • Only physicians can determine what constitutes the health of the woman and the viability of the fetus (note: this says physicians, not state legislators).

Therefore, the seven (perhaps soon to be nine) states that have passed 20-week abortion bans are in direct violation of the Supreme Court ruling that forbids “states from placing undue burden on women seeking an abortion prior to viability, a point that occurs well past 20 weeks.” So there’s that.

Secondly, I don’t know if you noticed, but there are no exceptions for the health of the fetus. Apparently Georgia’s exemption for “medically futile” fetuses was groundbreaking. So including the fact that these states make no exception for rape, incest, or mental health of the mother, they also ban abortions if the “fetus is discovered to be catastrophically impaired but still living, as is sometimes discovered by routine ultrasounds in midpregnancy.”

For those of you who argue that most fetal health problems are identified before 20 weeks, here are two examples of women for whom this was not the case:

Dana Weinstein was pregnant with her second child in 2009, when she found out that her baby suffered from agenesis of the corpus callosum and polymicrogyria (also known as no connection formed between the right and left brain, and malformed ridges in the brain, respectively). These deformities meant that, if born, her baby would suffer from uncontrollable seizures as well as severe mental and physical disabilities that could result in her being on feeding tubes, or in a vegetative state, for her entire life. How far along in her pregnancy was Weinstein? 29 weeks. Weinstein’s 20 week ultrasound showed no problems; according to a doctor at the Children’s National Medical Center in D.C., the majority of brain development occurs in the third trimester, well after 20 weeks. Weinstein chose to have an abortion, and one can only imagine how painful that must have been for her. Unable to find any doctors in the D.C. area (where she lives) who would perform the procedure, she had to fly out to Colorado. She accrued almost $18,000 in medical bills, which were only covered by her insurance after a prolonged battle.

Danielle Deaver was not so lucky (I use the word lucky sarcastically). Her water broke at 22 weeks, and afterwards she discovered that her baby’s lung and limb development had stopped. The likelihood that the baby would survive was slim, and she faced a serious threat of infection. As a Nebraska resident, Deaver did not have the option of obtaining an abortion, or even inducing labor, as doing so would have resulted in the death of the fetus and was therefore considered illegal. Instead, Deaver had to wait ten days until she went into natural labor, and her baby died 15 minutes after being born.

Here we have two very emotional examples of women who would have been/were harmed by increasingly restrictive, and unconstitutional, abortion laws. In neither case was the life of the mother immediately threatened, and therefore neither one of them would (or did, in Deaver’s case) qualify for an abortion in seven states. I would hope that the majority of this country would all agree, however, that in their cases, abortions were necessary.

Even if states try to pass new laws that, like Georgia, have exemptions for the health of the fetus, where is the line drawn? It seems pretty clear that Deaver’s pregnancy was “medically futile,” but what about Weinstein? Her daughter may have been able to survive outside of the womb, but it would have been a miserable, pain-filled existence. At best, she would have been severely physically and mentally disabled. At worst, she would have had to spend her entire life hooked up to machines; but she would have been alive. Do lawmakers consider the pain of the future child, or are they only concerned for the fetus? It seems that many of them would consider a slow, lingering death preferable to a quick, humane end. And although a woman may be financially prepared to have a healthy child, almost no one just has the millions of dollars it would take to support a child with such serious medical problems. If Weinstein was forced to have her baby, who would have paid for its care? The state senators? The governors?

2.) Reason number two can be summed up in the following sentence: who do legislators think they are, to be making medical decisions for their citizens? As far as I know, none of them are doctors or have a medical background of any kind. For people who constantly tout the evils of big government, their laws are getting awfully invasive. You cannot legislate medical issues, period. As evidenced above, there is no blanket law that can fully cover all exemptions/exceptions. Pregnancy is such an incredibly complex process. So much can go wrong. For lawmakers to sit on their pedestals and make restrictive decrees based upon their own skewed views of morality is abhorrent. Punishing women for getting pregnant is not productive. Yes, there will always be irresponsible young girls who get knocked up and think of abortions as birth control, but if you legislate them, you legislate every other woman out there who was raped by a family member, or who finds out her baby has a devastating birth defect. It boils down to these people having NO RIGHT to declare what they deem acceptable and unacceptable about our lives and our bodies.

If what you are worried about is morality, go home and teach it to your kids. It’s your responsibility as a parent. If what you are worried about is the life of a fetus, read the medical literature on fetal viability, and if you still disagree, stay away from abortion clinics. If what you are worried about is God’s plan, shut up, keep it to yourself, and let “His plan” go about its business instead of interfering with it. Open your eyes, and think beyond that little clump of cells. If this baby is born, who will care for it? If this baby is sick, who will pay for its medicine? The world is much bigger and more complex than the fantasy land these pro-life activists have created.

So in conclusion, do I think attempts to ban abortion after 20 weeks are wrong? Yes I do. There are too many ways these laws hurt women. Even if it is only a small percentage, not one woman should have to go through the pain and agony that those two women did. I in no way believe that the people attempting to pass these laws have anyone’s interest in mind except their own, which is based off of a personal religious agenda that does not belong in government. Whether or not these bills are passed with medical exemptions, they still come from the same place of ignorance and fear, and those two things have no place in our lawmaking process.

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One thought on “Limiting Abortions after 20 Weeks: Where’s the Line?

  1. Pingback: Anger Over Arizona’s Abortion Bill Misplaced | Escaping the Garden

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