The House Judiciary Committee, dominated by Republican men who still have not learned to avoid the subject of rape and pregnancy, took up the issue of abortion last week.
Normally, the news about abortion focuses on the machinations of conservative state legislatures, which have spent tremendous time and energy, often with great success, chipping away at women’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy.
For instance, I am fascinated by South Dakota, where the Legislature is almost rabidly anti-abortion. Previously in the state, women had to wait 72 hours after seeing a doctor at the state’s only abortion clinic law before they could have the procedure. This year, however, state law was amended to exclude Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from the 72-hour calculation.
“So now we can’t think on weekends?” the ACLU’s Louise Melling said dryly during a call with reporters Thursday. Melling, director of the ACLU’s Center of Liberty, presented an update on efforts to roll back abortion access, which are happening in many states. “Do they really think we’re just stupid?”
(The ACLU, not normally known for its lighthearted approach, has launched a campaign called “They Think We’re Stupid.” It is an up-to-the-minute compendium of anti-abortion efforts around the country, which are dramatic, ongoing and coordinated.)
But last week brought a move on the federal level to roll back abortion rights.
It comes, according to its proponents, in the wake of the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor who was convicted of murdering three babies after they were born during botched abortions.
A bill written by Republican U.S. Rep. Trent Franks would outlaw almost all abortions after 20 weeks. This despite the fact that in 1973 in Roe versus Wade, the Supreme Court said a woman’s right to have an abortion cannot be restricted before fetal viability, generally considered now to be about 24 weeks.
Arguing against a Democratic amendment for a rape and incest exception, Franks declared that the incidence of pregnancy due to rape is low, giving his Republican colleagues a horrible flashback to the summer of 2012 when various goofball statements by Republican candidates about women and rape helped sink GOP hopes of reclaiming the Senate.
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill, 20 to 12. It has been noted that no Republican women sit on the committee.
In any case, a full House vote is expected to take place shortly. Even if the bill passes, a Senate version, written by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, will certainly go down in flames, as Democrats still rule the Senate.
The remarkable thing about this bill is that its supporters have pressed forward in the absence of any possibility for success. Three weeks ago, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out virtually the exact same law in Arizona. Here is what the court said:
“Since Roe versus Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), the Supreme Court case law concerning the constitutional protection accorded women with respect to the decision whether to undergo an abortion has been unalterably clear regarding one basic point, although it has varied in other respects: a woman has a constitutional right to choose to terminate her pregnancy before the fetus is viable. A prohibition on the exercise of that right is per se unconstitutional.”
Painful as that is for the anti-abortion forces to hear, that’s been the law of the land for more than 40 years now.
Robin Abcarian is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.