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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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House 20-Week Abortion Ban Hearing a ‘Farce,’ Says Leading Democrat

10:29 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Thursday on a bill that would impose an unconstitutional nationwide ban on abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization. Four witnesses sat at the table during that hearing, but there was really only one person who mattered for the Republican lawmakers—whose aim, ultimately, is to outlaw all abortions. That person was Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Pennsylvania physician now serving a life sentence for murder and manslaughter.

US Capitol Building

US Capitol Building

According to Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, under whose jurisdiction the hearing was called, Gosnell is “not an anomaly in this gruesome Fortune 500 enterprise of killing unborn children.” The rogue doctor, who was roundly denounced by pro-choice activists as soon as the horrific conditions of his clinic came to light, is, for Franks, “the true face of abortion on demand in America.”

Using Gosnell as justification, Franks has retooled his proposed “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act”—previously introduced as a measure specific to Washington, D.C.—to apply to all 50 states. A D.C. 20-week ban has also been introduced in the Senate, although it is highly unlikely to come up for a vote.

If all abortion providers were like Gosnell, of course, they could be prosecuted under existing criminal laws, as Gosnell was. But they’re not—and that’s why House Republicans want to create a way to prosecute them. The Pain-Capable Act would subject doctors who perform abortions after 20 weeks to criminal prosecution, jail time, and monetary penalties. It would provide a cause of action for a woman who has an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy—or her husband, boyfriend, or one-night stand, as well as her family—to sue the doctor, including for punitive damages.

By pegging the gestational time-limit to disproven claims about fetal pain (which medical experts agree is not possible before the third trimester), the bill would lay the basis for limiting abortions even earlier in pregnancy, based on even more questionable science, as demonstrated at Franks’ hearing.

Maureen Condic, a University of Utah scientist who also opposes embryonic stem-cell research, testified that it is “uncontested that a fetus experiences pain as early as eight weeks.” By continually arguing that fetal pain is experienced far earlier than the established medical evidence, Condic did provide proof of something else: that Republicans’ ultimate goal is to outlaw abortion far earlier than 20 weeks.

The bill proposed by Franks contains no exceptions for the health of a woman who needs an abortion after 20 weeks, raising the specter of a woman (or the parents of a minor) suing a doctor who, in an emergency, saved her from horrific health consequences. It also provides no exceptions for rape or incest. The woman, the man by whom she is pregnant, or the woman’s family members could even seek a court order barring the doctor from performing abortions in the future.

Another of the Republicans’ three witnesses, anti-choice activist Jill Stanek, claimed that the Gosnell case is “evidence that the lines between illegal infanticide and legal feticide, both via abortion, have become blurred.”

By equating Gosnell’s criminal activity with all abortion, Franks and his supporters attempt to elide the fact that their bill is patently unconstitutional, as Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), noted. Just this week the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a similar law out of Franks’ home state of Arizona.

Franks’ obvious aim is to test that conclusion, by forcing yet another legal challenge to Roe v. Wade. But he also seeks to enhance his position—at least in the court of public opinion—by attempting to persuade the public that if Gosnell, who performed illegal abortions and killed infants born alive, was found guilty of murder, all providers of abortion services must be similarly guilty.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the subcommittee’s ranking member, strongly voiced his opposition to Franks’ claims. “[W]hat Dr. Gosnell did had nothing to do with abortion; it was murder,” Nadler said.

Calling the hearings a “farce,” Nadler noted that the Democrats, as the minority in the House, were not permitted by Franks to call more than one witness, while the three witnesses called by Republicans presented what Nadler called “false and misleading” medical evidence.

The one witness Democrats were permitted was Christy Zink, who recounted the heart-rending story of how she and her husband were informed during her 21st week of pregnancy that the fetus she was carrying had a lethal abnormality, agenesis of the corpus callosum. Zink said that if brought to term, her baby would have been born missing a part of its brain.

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Open Letter to Representative Trent Franks: What Caring About Women and Babies Really Looks Like

7:31 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Dear Representative Trent Franks,

A mother nurses her infant

What does it mean to care for women? (Photo: See-Ming Lee / Flickr)

Today, I watched you debate during the markup for H.R. 3803, or, as you may know it, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks in Washington, DC. I watched you valiantly fight to save “the children” from their pain even in the case of rape or incest, or when a mother has been diagnosed with cancer and the treatment needed to save her life is incompatible with the continuation of her pregnancy. I watched you warn the rest of the judiciary committee that abortions are linked to higher rates of suicide, even though this “fact,” and the basis for the bill itself (that 20-week-old fetuses can feel pain) flies in the face of all accredited scientific evidence.

And all I could think about was September 7, 2007.

It may seem strange to you. September 7, 2007 was nearly five years ago. Why think about that now? And why such a specific date?

September 7, 2007 was the night I was raped.

September 7, 2007 was the night that my rapist’s sperm met my egg and I was impregnated with the child of my rapist.

I thought about all of this as I watched you passionately advocate on behalf of “the tiny little babies” and the only reaction I could muster was “how dare you.”

How dare you, Representative Franks. Your claim of caring about the “pain of the tiny babies” rings hollow when one remembers your support of the Ryan Budget, which would have slashed over $36 billion from food assistance programs. You called them “slush funds” and “runaway federal spending.” This from a member of the House of Representatives, who makes more in a month than I do in a year.

How dare you, Representative Franks. Your claim of caring about the “increased risk of suicide” among those who seek abortions rings hollow when, again and again, you have voted to strip people like me of health care by voting for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the slashing of Medicare and Medicaid. These programs that I, personally, rely on so that I can afford counseling to help me deal with the trauma of being raped.  After all, “health care” involves your mental health as well.

How dare you, Representative Franks. Your faux concern for the physical and mental well-being of parents and their children is sickening when you have over and over again proven your concern for both is nonexistent.

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