The GOP war on women continues

Our view: Republican effort to limit DC abortion rights reveals that for all the talk of limited government and a focus on fiscal restraint, limiting women's choice, even to the victims of rape and incest, remains high on the party's agenda

August 01, 2012

There has always been something truly unseemly about the desire of conservatives in Congress to assert their control over the residents of the District of Columbia. Not only because it represents a white and male-dominated culture forcing its values on a city of more than 617,000 (more than half of whom are black and an even higher percentage female), but it runs so blatantly counter to the GOP's alleged preference for a hands-off federal government.

Tuesday's vote by the House of Representatives over a proposed ban on abortion for all District women after 20 weeks of pregnancy, even those who are the victims of rape and incest, surely represents a new low for this plantation mentality. The measure lost but only because at 220-154, it lacked the two-thirds majority required under a suspension of the rules, a curious use of procedure by Republican leadership that limited debate and assured supporters they'd accomplish only a show vote for the benefit of anti-abortion supporters.

That the House would believe it appropriate to limit any woman's reproductive rights is galling, but that it would do so to District residents would seem doubly so. If the point was to show how outrageous it is that D.C. has not been given statehood — or even so much as a vote in Congress — then they certainly accomplished that. This is not even the first time anti-abortion rights members of Congress have declared war on District women; they've frequently banned the city from using its own funds to underwrite abortion care for the poor.

But, of course, the intended point of this exercise was for House Republicans to demonstrate to the National Right to Life Committee and other like-minded organizations that they are ready to fall in step with current efforts to restrict women's' right to choose. So far, nine states have adopted similar laws to ban abortion after 20 weeks on the questionable theory that a fetus at that stage of development can feel pain.

Most medical experts say that's not true. Yet there was Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist, on the floor of the House talking about the presence of pain receptors in a 20-week-old fetus without acknowledging that those receptors are not yet connected to a functioning brain. According to a review of applicable research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a fetus does not feel pain prior to the third trimester.

The whole effort appears to be on shaky constitutional grounds. The Supreme Court has ruled that women have a right to an abortion up until fetal viability. But, admittedly, that may change as these new laws are tested and ultimately considered by the John Roberts court. A recent ruling by a federal judge in Arizona has allowed a fetal pain law to stand in that state, but it's far from the last word on the subject.

Over and over again, Republicans deny that they have declared war on women. Tuesday's actions show just how hollow that claim really is. Opponents have pointed out numerous instances when denying a woman an abortion after 20 weeks can place her at serious health risk. And to force a victim of rape or incest to carry her assailant's child to term? Outrageous.

Most Americans are not interested in such attacks on abortion rights. Many would rather the topic didn't come up at all this election. But it's clear that those who would like to ban all abortions are not deterred and hope to gain ground if Mitt Romney is elected president.

Where does Mr. Romney stand on this subject? As governor of Massachusetts and a candidate for the U.S. Senate from that state, he supported a woman's right to choose and even raised money for Planned Parenthood. More recently, he has called for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. But how far he is willing to go to limit choice remains a bit of an unknown.

Conservatives may like to downplay their social agenda, but that doesn't mean it's not of considerable importance to them. At a time when Congress should be debating the Bush tax cuts, the deficit or the fiscal cliff, Republicans insisted on flexing their muscles on abortion rights. That should alarm all who believe a woman's choice ought to be left up to the individual and not to government to decide.

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