Today, January 22, 2015, is the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade, and the 41st anniversary of the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
House Republican leaders were scheduled to vote today on a controversial anti-abortion measure to coincide with this annual gathering of anti-abortion advocates, but had to scrap today’s anticipated vote because they couldn’t round up enough support.
And we can credit 22 Republican women in the House of Representatives for derailing it.
The “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” is a bill banning so-called “late-term abortions,” which are those—according to the bill—involving procedures for women who are beyond 20 weeks into their pregnancy.
It is accepted medical fact that fetal brain structures necessary for conscious experience of pain do not develop until 29-30 weeks, and the conscious processing of sounds is only made possible after the 26th week. This was the medical data that led to the 28-week provision in Roe. So the bill named the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” is inaccurate in its title and its assumptions.
But House GOP women didn’t protest the 20-week limit; they protested language in the bill that requires those women who seek an exception to the ban, because they were raped, to back up their claim with a police report. A similar measure has passed the House in 2013, but this time some female members—including some who voted for it last time—are pushing for that requirement to be stripped out.
Did these female legislators rebel because they are women sympathetic to rape victims, or because they are politicians chasing the vote? After all, this group of female House Republicans pointed out the vote could threaten the Party’s efforts to reach out to women and young people. If that is the case, why aren’t they upset with the entirety of the bill?
But this report-the-rape provision circles back to the “legitimate rape” issue, which is continually morphing as it is used in different contexts. The meaning in this case is, if there isn’t a police report made following the rape, it isn’t a legitimate rape.
It is a known fact that many rapes go unreported. A Justice Department report from December, 2014, estimates that 80% of campus rapes go unreported. The National Research Council in 2013 reported that same number of rapes in the general population—80 percent—go unreported.
There are many reasons rape goes unreported, but the most common is that rape is most often committed by someone known to the victim. In fact, it is estimated that 90% of rapes are committed by known assailants, and only 10% by strangers. So why are these rapes not reported? Studies show that there is the fear of not being believed; that there is a sense of shame or self-blame; that there are mixed feelings about getting the perpetrator ‘into trouble’.
So when Republicans require women who seek an exception to the ban because they were raped to back up their claim with a police report, they are forcing women to do something that, for their own personal reasons, they likely would have chosen not to do.
While we can wish all rapes were reported and prosecuted, it is not realistic to think that women will start reporting those rapes so that they can have “proof” in the form of a police report, just in case they anticipate having an abortion after the 20-week period.
It’s an ill-conceived provision, and while it might seem logical that rape victims who choose to have an abortion would do so within 20 weeks, it is not up to us or Republican legislators to expect it.
In Roe v Wade, viability was defined as “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid. Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.” When the Supreme Court ruled in 1973, the then-current medical technology suggested that viability could occur as early as 24 weeks. Advances over the past three decades have allowed fetuses that are a few weeks less than 24 weeks old to survive outside the mother’s womb. These scientific achievements, while life-saving for premature babies, have made the determination of being “viable” somewhat more complicated. (Wikipedia)
But if rape victims, or any other women, decide to wait until the now legal 28 weeks for an abortion, they are not breaking the law. Some states have lowered that viability number to 24 weeks, some 22 weeks, and now the targeted viability term up for a House vote is 20 weeks.
We can’t know why a woman would decide to wait 28 weeks to obtain an abortion. We do know that severe deformities such as hydrocephalus can take that long, or longer, to be diagnosed. We do know that women’s circumstances can change through divorce, economic devastation, the need to become a caretaker to an ill parent…myriad reasons. Having a baby under such circumstances could be exceptionally difficult. Whatever the reasons, we must maintain that it is a woman’s legal right to do so, and it is her choice.
Whether you are a pro-choice advocate or not, it is currently the law that the safe, legal medical procedure known as abortion is available to women without restriction for up to 28 weeks. It’s the viability issue that is being tested.
For now, the target is 20 weeks, but North Dakota has approved a six-week abortion ban. Six weeks! Getting the 28 weeks lowered to 20 weeks is just the start of the Republican mission to, as they have boasted, “ban abortion outright.” This is plain to see.
As Hillary Clinton said: “I have met thousands and thousands of pro-choice men and women. I have never met anyone who is pro-abortion.” Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion. But choice must remain available to women, and the current viability terms of up to 28 weeks is the law for scientific, medical reasons.