This summer, Judy Nicastro wrote in the New York Times that in her 20th week of pregnancy she learned that her son would have a hole in his diaphragm, only one formed lung, and would rely on oxygen for much of his early life. She confessed that she was grateful that he “died in a warm and loving place” when the doctor aborted him at 24 weeks.
Roughly one in three women will ever have an abortion, and just 1.5 percent of all terminations occur after 20 weeks. But certain types of fetal tests can only be performed at or just before 20 weeks, and that is the time when pregnant women find out about brain malformations, missing limbs, and other severe birth defects.
Tomorrow, Albuquerque could become the first city in the country to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, using medical justifications about fetal pain that have successfully propelled similar bans through the legislatures of 12 states. Some see the measure as the start of a city-by-city battle by pro-life groups to ban abortions such as Nicastro’s, even in states with liberal legislatures.
Last year, Al-Jazeera English produced a documentary called The Abortion War. One of its interview subjects was Ohio State representative Jim Buchy, who co-sponsored two state anti-abortion bills. In the documentary, he’s asked a simple question: What do you think makes a woman want to have an abortion? The Republican legislator grimaces and fidgets in his seat. “Well, there’s probably a lot of reasons.” He lets out a little laugh when admitting, “I’m not a woman,” then continues to think aloud. “So I’m thinking, if I’m a woman, why would I have to… some of it has to with economics. A lot of it has to do with economics. I don’t know, I never—it’s a question I’ve never even thought about.”
Rep. Buchy, then, would learn a lot from Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s extraordinary new documentary After Tiller. But so would anyone with strong opinions on the question of whether abortion should be legal. The film is a rare consideration of the abortion debate that moves past labels and abstracts and takes a long look at the people involved. It is a showcase for empathy, a quality lacking in many conversations on the subject.
Dr. George Tiller’s Women’s Healthcare Services clinic was the best known of the country’s few providers of late-term (third trimester) abortions, which account for fewer than one percent of all abortions. Tiller was bombed in 1985, shot in 1993, and, finally, murdered in 2009. After his death, only four late-term providers remain: Dr. LeRoy Carhart (located in Bellevue, Nebraska when the film begins, though he is eventually forced to relocate to Maryland), Dr. Warren Hern (in Boulder, Colorado), and Dr. Susan Robinson and Dr. Shelley Sella (who share duties at a clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico). Directors Shane and Wilson divvy up the film fairly evenly between the three practices, and while they have some understandable interest in the kinds of people who would put themselves in, quite literally, the gun sights of the extreme anti-abortion movement (“When I walk out of the front door of my office, I expect to be assassinated,” Dr. Hern says), they’re more interested in the women who come to see them.
Read more. [Image: Oscilloscope Laboratories]
I’m a native of North Carolina, which just passed a stunningly restrictive new abortion law, and I’m currently living in China, where abortion is cheap, government-funded, and common. So recently, I began wondering which countries have the most liberal abortion laws, and how lax these laws actually are. I assumed that Western Europe would be the land of abortion on demand, likely government-subsidized, and possibly with a free bag of condoms afterward. But as it turns out, abortion laws in Europe are both more restrictive and more complicated than that.
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To argue that the female body has the means to ‘shut that whole thing down,’ or that the torture of women is somehow divinely sanctioned takes more than just an accident of biology. It takes the ability to speak about things of which you are ignorant as though you are informed. It takes unacknowledged blindness.
It takes an appetite for cruelty."
As national Republicans in Tampa consider adding a ban on abortions as an official plank in their party platform — a proposal whose draft language is so severe, it doesn’t make exceptions for cases of rape or incest — liberal commentators have grown accustomed to speaking of the right’s strict stance on reproductive issues as a war on women. But it might be more accurate to say that it’s really an attack on women of a specific stripe: those from disadvantaged minorities and the poor.
Read more. [Image: Theodore Joyce, Ruoding Tan, Yuxiu Zhang]
From Massachusetts now comes growing evidence that the quest for lower abortion rates, though, may not be at a standstill; and the key may be better insurance coverage. As the number of insured has gone up in Massachusetts, new state data show a corresponding decline in the number of abortions performed there since 2006.
Read more. [Image: Brian Fung, Data: Department of Public Health, U.S. Census Bureau]
Rep. Todd Akin appeared to be on his own in the controversy over his abortion and rape comments, but fellow Congressman Steve King has also put his foot in it after saying he’s never heard of a woman getting pregnant because of statutory rape or incest. Like Akin, Iowa’s King supported a House bill in 2011 that would have banned federal funding for abortion and would not have included an exemption for just those sorts of cases.
In an interview on Monday, he suggested such an exemption wouldn’t be necessary because he’s never heard of such a thing happening. ”Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” King told KMEG-TV Monday, “and I’d be open to discussion about that subject matter.”
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I have the right to objectively define pregnancy from rape as rare. I have the right to determine separate legitimate rape from all those instances when you were in need of encouragement, wearing a red dress or otherwise asking for it. I have the right to manufacture scientific theories about your body — theories which reinforce my power. If the body doesn’t ‘shut that whole thing down’ then clearly you weren’t raped, and there’s no need to talk about an abortion. And even if I am wrong on every count, I still have the right to dictate the terms of your body and the remaining days of your life.
All of my rationales range from the totally subjective to the outright mythical. But I am the sovereign of the female body. On my word rumor becomes science, and the destruction of your life is repackaged as the defense of someone else’s."
During a debate over a package of abortion regulation bills, state Rep. Lisa Brown finished her remarks against the bills with, “Finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’” The quote doesn’t seem wildly out of line. It’s reasoning we’ve come to expect from pro-choice lawmakers and advocates, but in Michigan it shocks and offends.
On Thursday, Brown and another female member of the House were blocked from participating in a House debate over an education bill because of remarks they made during the abortion debate. Rep. Mike Callton was offened by Brown’s choice of language. ”What she said was offensive,” he said. “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”
Read more at The Atlantic Wire. [Image: YouTube]