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How Republicans Are Distorting the Gosnell Case to Push a Federal 20-Week Abortion Ban

12:56 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Tara Murtha for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of HR 1797 here.

Kermit Gosnell mugshot

Gosnell: not a valid excuse to ban abortion.

After apparently having exhausted the distortion and exploitation of the Kermit Gosnell case to push targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws through state legislatures, anti-choice lawmakers are twisting the facts of the case yet again to suit a new purpose.

This time, they are disingenuously claiming that rolling back the number of weeks after which it is illegal to have an abortion will “prevent more Gosnells.” HR 1797, the bill that passed the U.S. House Tuesday, would ban abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization, or 22 weeks’ gestation. (Under Roe v. Wade, abortion is legal, with restrictions, until viability, which is considered to be approximately 24 weeks into pregnancy.)

HR 1797

HR 1797 is titled the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, even though scientific studies, and meta-analysis of said studies, have found no evidence of fetal pain until the third trimester. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) proposed the legislation, despite the fact that a 20-week abortion ban passed in his state was recently ruled unconstitutional. Grounding the bill in faux science is no surprise, given Franks’ role in founding the Arizona Family Research Institute, a group linked to the notorious Focus on the Family, a devoutly anti-choice (and anti-LGBTQ rights) organization that promotes an anti-science fringe agenda such as teaching “Creationism” and abstinence-only education. As a young politician, Franks reportedly donned a tie tack in the shape of fetal feet.

As the bill was furiously debated in the House Tuesday, hardly a minute went by without a mention of Gosnell. Gosnell, of course, is the infamous Philadelphia doctor recently convicted of the first-degree murder of three babies, voluntary manslaughter of a Bhutanese immigrant named Karnamaya Mongar, and 21 counts of abortion past the legal gestational date (24 weeks in Pennsylvania), among other charges.

“The trial of Kermit Gosnell exposed late abortions for what they really are: relocated infanticide,” Franks in a statement about the bill.

His statement echoes anti-choice rhetoric surrounding the Gosnell case; if Gosnell’s victims had been in a womb, they say, his actions would have been legal—or, as Kirstin Powers put it, it’s “merely a matter of geography.”

But it’s not accurate.

Gosnell was convicted of involuntary manslaughter of Mongar and of first-degree murder of three babies, referred to as Babies A, C, and D in the grand jury report and throughout the trial. From the grand jury report, describing Baby A: “His 17-year old mother was almost 30 weeks pregnant.” Baby C, according to the grand jury report, was “at least 28 weeks of gestational age.” The grand jury did not know the exact gestational age of Baby D, though experts used a review of neonatology charts to conclude that the age was “consistent with viability.” In other words, each of these were third trimester pregnancies.

Gosnell’s “procedures” were illegal under current law. A 20-week post-fertilization ban would not make them any more illegal. If passed into law, HR 1797, or any other 20-week ban, would not prevent another Gosnell.

Meanwhile, abortions performed in weeks 20 through 24 are statistically rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest abortion surveillance report, based on data from 2009, 91.7 percent of abortions were performed at or before 13 weeks gestation. Only 1.3 percent of abortions occurred at or after 21 weeks’ gestation.

“More Gosnells”?

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Rick Perry: Legislature Will Work Out Punishment for Women Seeking Later Abortions Under Proposed Ban

11:44 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Texas’ Gov. Rick Perry has thrown his support behind a potential 20-week abortion ban in the state, but his office told RH Reality Check that he’ll leave it up to legislators to determine the appropriate punishment for women who get later-term abortions.

A caricature of Rick Perry.

How much does Rick Perry hate women? He'll let the legislature decide.

After Perry’s appearance at a Houston crisis pregnancy center last week, RH Reality Check asked his office whether he supported any exceptions to the yet-to-be-proposed law, such as for cases of rape, incest, or the life of the pregnant person. His office’s answer: “those details will be worked out by the Legislature.”

We also wondered: what does Gov. Perry imagine the punishment should be for women who seek abortions after 20 weeks, were Texas to ban such procedures?

His office responded not with the usual anti-choice dithering about punishing doctors instead of abortion-seekers, but with a clear admission that punishment for these women is in order: “That will also be decided by the Legislature.”

What, indeed, might be the appropriate punishment for the southeast Texas single mother of seven children who sought an abortion at 21 weeks? Or the San Antonio woman, 20 weeks pregnant, who’s trying to leave an abusive relationship? Or the college junior from Oklahoma who is picking up extra shifts in hopes of paying for her abortion at 21 weeks?

These are the stories from real people who have contacted the Lilith Fund, a Texas-based non-profit that helps women find funding for safe, legal abortion care. If Texas passes a 20-week abortion ban, Texans like these women — women who are likely to have experienced “multiple disruptive events” in the past year, and who are likely to be victims of domestic violence, according to research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute — would be criminals in the eyes of the state.

Lilith Fund president Amelia Long told RH Reality Check that a 20-week abortion ban “unfairly burdens people that are already experiencing some of the worst problems in their lives.”

Long says it’s not the case that women know they want or need an abortion and are “just putting it off and just being lazy about it,” as Perry and his anti-choice supporters seem to believe. “That is never the case with anyone we talk to.”

Instead, says Long, the Lilith Fund hears from women who are in abusive relationships, or from women who initially had a wanted pregnancy but “then something happens that’s a disaster for them,” making the prospect of pregnancy and parenthood untenable. Long characterized Perry’s position as “not acting with compassion.”

Indeed, how compassionate is it to suggest that an unemployed mother of two, a student looking for waitressing jobs who found herself pregnant at 20 weeks after an unsuccessful medical abortion, should pay a fine or serve jail time?

But that’s Rick Perry’s perspective: women who seek abortions after 20 weeks owe a debt to society that must be paid, somehow. It’ll be up to the Texas legislature to decide just how much these mothers, college students, high schoolers and victims of domestic violence owe.

Written by Andrea Grimes for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Image by DonkeyHotey released under a Creative Commons license.

Losing the Right to Abortion Later in Pregnancy

2:14 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Susan Yanow for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

 Cross-posted with permission from the ANSIRH blog.

While access to abortion is increasingly restricted in many states, options for women needing an abortion after 20 weeks have narrowed dramatically.

In April 2010, Nebraska became the first state in the country to pass a restriction on abortion after 20 weeks, based on an unscientific claim that fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks gestation. The Nebraska law banned abortions after 20 weeks for any reason except if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

Prior to the passage of this law in Nebraska, there were 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) where abortion was available after 20 weeks. Although in most of these states these services were dependent on one site and one physician, nonetheless the services existed. Since April 2010, legislation limiting abortions to 20 weeks has been signed into law in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. Bills making access to later abortion more difficult were passed in Missouri and Ohio.

Arizona’s lawmakers have gone even further. Although the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion through the second trimester, generally understood as 24-26 weeks, Arizona has redefined biology and the right to abortion and banned abortion after 18 weeks LMP (from the last menstrual period). The trimester construction of Roe is becoming irrelevant in many states.

And perhaps it is time to move beyond the trimester construction established in Roe — but not for the reasons put forth by those opposed to abortion under all circumstances. We must expand our advocacy to include women who seek abortions later in pregnancy.

Studies show that many women who present at clinics after 20 weeks wanted an earlier abortion, but faced financial hurdles and legal barriers — barriers which have increased as states pass new waiting periods, facility regulations, and other laws that restrict access to care. Other women face a diagnosis of fetal anomaly later in pregnancy. For still other women, circumstances shift and a wanted pregnancy becomes untenable when a woman’s partner leaves, her young child develops a serious illness and needs her full attention, or someone in the family loses his/her job and/or health insurance.

These life situations do not fall neatly into a trimester construction. All of these women need to be able to make decisions about their futures, their lives, and their health.

The restrictions on later abortion are part of a broad attack on women’s fundamental right to abortion. We must come together to find new strategies to protect existing services, help women who need later abortion care to get to those states where the services are still provided, build understanding and compassion for every woman’s unique life situation, and stand up for the right of every woman to access the abortion she needs; as early as possible, and as late as necessary.