The Republicans have returned to power. They now control the House of Representatives and the Senate. They rode in on a wave of gerrymandered House seats and the contributions of hugely wealthy political Pacs. The Senate victory was predictable, as the money went even farther there. The Republicans elected 54 Senators by winning all 9 of the 9 open seats. In the House of Representatives the Republicans won 244 seats in a legislative body that requires only 218 for a majority. Having won a major victory, what was their first piece of legislation? Was it on jobs, or falling down bridges or collapsing tunnels or trimming the military budget or fixing Social Security or finding ways to bring solid health care to the poor, of which there are now one out of every three Americans? The answer is no.
It was on abortion. It isn’t enough to vote 51 times to repeal (rather than “reform” or “adjust” or “improve”) the new health care law that attempted to give American Citizens the right to affordable, undeniable health care. They had already found ways to make health care more difficult for women, like the unpopular but Supreme-Court-dictated “Hobby Lobby” decision. You may recall that the great Republican, Rush Limbaugh, their most formidable opponent of women’s health, called Georgetown Law Student, Sondra Fluke, a “slut” because she, like a hundred million American women, 98% in fact, wanted to use birth control. Not only was their first piece of legislation in the new House of Representatives on abortion, but it was called, “The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” The title itself tries to indicate that the reason for cutting the period in which a woman can have an abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks is that the fetus feels pain at 24 weeks. That is, of course, not true.
Representative Trent Franks, who not only does not have a medical degree, nor a bachelor’s degree, nor any experience in the medical field, even in the abortion segment of the medical field, but some limited experience in the oil field, says so. Is he an honest broker on this matter? Is he really concerned for the health of the mother and for the potential “unborn child” which of course is a highly emotional but totally unrealistic term for a fetus of 24 weeks? Medical science tells us that a fetus does not even have a connection between the brain’s thalamus and the sensory receptors until 28 weeks. So it is a little like having a doorbell that is not connected. You can push the button as many times as you want, but until the wires are connected, no one will hear the sound. The reason Roe v. Wade uses 24 weeks as the cutoff for abortion is that 24 weeks gives enough time before the fetus could feels pain. And it is more than plenty of time considering that we are talking about, at most, 18,000 (using Franks’ own dubious figures) out of about 1 million abortions that would ever reach that length before aborting. Franks and his gruesome group don’t tell you that 8 out of 10 abortions are done within the first ten weeks and 9-and-one-half out of ten are done within the first 15 weeks.
If Trent Franks is being honest, then what is the problem? Well, the problem is a little bit like climate change. It turns out that only 90% of scientists believe in climate change. So who are the others? They are people hired by the coal and oil industries to challenge any possible statistic that might have the remotest connection to climate change. Fixing climate change means using less fossil fuel unless it can reduce the carbon footprint, i.e., damage the ozone. In the same way, Franks and his tribe are more than a little suspect on abortion.
Franks has made his entire political career by attacking abortion from different but increasingly Conservative House districts in Arizona. He has by now worked himself into a highly bigoted, highly Conservative, gerrymandered Right Wing district in Arizona. Supposedly in the oil drilling business, he has lived all over, originally from the mining country of Colorado, and finally settled in Arizona. Although supposedly an “engineer” for a petroleum company (he has no formal education in engineering, or as far as it is possible to discern, a degree in anything) he took on abortion rights, even though he had no children of his own, as an issue when running for the Arizona House of Representatives in 1984. He rode that horse to victory but was defeated in 1986. In 1987, Franks was given a job by the corrupt Meacham administration. Governor Meacham was later impeached and indicted and removed from office for questionable political appointments, presumably like that of Franks. In late 1987, Franks founded the Arizona Family Research Institute, said to be affiliated with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. Dobson’s group attacks abortions, gay rights and gay marriage, pre-marital sex and laws on divorce. The $100 million non-profit organization promotes Creationism, anti-gay legislation and anti-Planned Parenthood programs. In 1988, Franks moved to a new district and ran for election in that district, but was again defeated for the House of Representatives. In 1992, Franks was supposedly Chairman of Arizonans for Common Sense, a group that proposed a constitutional amendment that would ban most abortions. It was rejected by voters.
Moving ahead, (but skipping a lot) after Franks had finally found a Conservative district that would put him in the House of Representatives, he continued his main issue, eliminating women’s rights. He proposed a bill in 2013 that would ban abortions after 20 weeks without exception for rape or incest. He then said that the “incidence of pregnancy from rape is very low” which in fact is not true. So, now, in 2015, with Republicans in power, Franks has again introduced a bill, which was rejected even by some Republicans to once again, reduce the number of weeks that the roughly 5% of American women who do need an abortion at 24 weeks can have. The unschooled, uneducated, inexperienced small petroleum company president Trent Franks contradict medical science and claim that 20 weeks is sufficient and would send doctors to jail if they act otherwise.
Does it make a difference whether a woman aborts on the 24th week of pregnancy versus the 20th week? Not to Trent Franks. He doesn’t give birth. Nor does any man. Only a woman gives birth. So Trent Franks, both literally and figuratively, has no skin in the game. He’s a man and not a physician.
Let’s be clear. Almost no one wants any abortion. Some believe that a child is viable when it is conceived. That is a nice, sentimental or religious belief but it is not supported by science. The evidence of science is that a group of cells gradually becomes a child over a gradual period time. That group of cells, the fetus, has the appearance of what will be a child but is not “viable.” That is, outside the womb it has no ability to function or survive. It has no brain, no lung capacity, and many other things that a full-term child needs to survive after birth. All of these determinations have been studied ad infinitum and are known definitively by obstetricians, gynecologists and medical researchers. At some point it seems, but it is not clear that even then the fetus does become capable of feeling pain, though there is great controversy about whether that happens at all. If it does, it comes at about 28 weeks, according to science. It is then that the senses and the brain’s capacity to feel pain do connect.
So, what do we know for certain? We know that most women, 95%-plus, who have abortions, do so long before there is any pain to the fetus and long before the fetus is anything physically able to survive as a human being—even though the appearance and the motions of the fetus do resemble that of a child in the womb. Unfortunately, our common concern for babies and children makes us all vulnerable to false appeals that have nothing but political motives. Religious organizations as well as pseudo-religious organizations pretend to know the facts. They don’t. They quite simply lie and the reason they do is to raise money. Naturally, well meaning people who want to believe and want to help donate tens of millions of dollars to these organizations and elect Right Wing Republican legislators who use those positions, almost unbelievably sadistically, to support the causes of global corporations over those of their own constituents. The Family Research Council is a highly powerful $100 million non-profit Right Wing organization that uses the visual effects of modern technology and the testimony of a handful of corrupt or religiously fanatic physicians to continue a battle about which they are, in fact, not sincere but in fact quite sinister.
How do we know that they are not sincere? Because there are several essential points that are not addressed by the Right-to-Life groups. These same groups use other, now discredited arguments to raise money from the same groups. They promote the idea that homosexuals are merely acting out some sort of life fantasy, rather than the scientific fact, that there are individuals who are attracted, not to the opposite sex, but, naturally or unnaturally depending on your definition, to the same sex. In fact, Focus on the Family, the Right Wing pseudo-religious group, had a sub-group called Love Won Out. This was a ministry that despite scientific evidence which everyone now understands continued to promote the idea that they could turn gay individuals to heterosexuality. The group was sold by Focus on the Family and in 2009 eventually ceased activity after repudiating what they had previously claimed and apologizing for the harm they had caused to the Lesbian and Gay communities.
Reducing the number of abortions in the country is far, far from a crackpot idea. But we see that some of the people promoting it have these other issues that are wildly irresponsible but have the emotional capacity to raise tens of millions of dollars. For example, does it make sense to fight against contraception and then also fight abortion? Should we not spend all of our effort to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies by making contraception as easy as possible for women? How many of the roughly one million abortions could be prevented with more education and availability of contraceptive alternatives? So do these pseudo-religious groups and Representative Trent Franks who pretend that they want to reduce abortions actually support Planned Parenthood? No. They fight Planned Parenthood and often succeed in eliminating Planned Parenthood offices.
For some reason, the Right Wing and their supporters, giant global corporations, the oil and gas industry, food companies, chemical companies, health insurance companies, the military—all these groups support the idea of over population. Do we really want to fight against contraception? Without it, we would have huge families, reduce standards, overburden our health and education systems and eclipse of all the progress made by women over the last 100 years. Can the average family afford four or five children and a woman who must stay in the home to raise them? The world is moving in the opposite direction, not always positively, but for the most part intelligently and forward.
We have people like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council who says in a published brochure by the FRC, describing all the admittedly remarkable, even wondrous events that take place in the womb in the early development of what will at some point be a small child. But at the same time, Tony Perkins, evolution denier, climate change denier, homosexuality denier claims inaccurately and deliberately that this fetus can feel pain “with conservative estimates placing this faculty at 16 to 18 weeks after conception.” This is at odds with every medical expert anywhere, not just some. Perkins and his group are deniers of anything that can be denied that has good emotional value for raising millions of dollars from “Christians.” This cynical approach continues the fight, one that has been won long ago by science but continues in the opportunistic efforts of these cruel and insensitive political hacks pretending to be Christian. There are, of course, a whole raft of similar statements by like organizations wedded to the supposed elimination of abortions. It is clear from the alternatives that would truly reduce the number of abortions that they do not really care about fixing this issue. They merely want to use it for political gain.
Based on these hypothetical statements by people like Tony Perkins (but not, you will note by most legislatures and judges who must deal in facts) several states have reduced the time frame within which an abortion must be performed to 20 weeks, which is well within the correct time frame of 28 weeks. Once again, 95%-plus of abortions take place before the 16th week. Many of the remaining 5% conducted after the 16th week or after the 20th or 25th are done because of serious problems with the pregnancy. Most of these, where the fetus is anesthetized and terminated in some manner before the dilation and extraction are done for reasons of health to the mother, problems with the fetus itself, or the possible death of either the mother or the unborn child. Conditions under which this is done could be things such as anencephaly where the brain and skull do not form. Most of these babies if delivered to term live only hours or days.
The fact is that medical authorities, like obstetric anesthesiologists, the best experts on surgery on fetuses in the womb have done research on this issue. The results are crystal clear. Despite visual indications, the pain receptors only start to form at 8 weeks. And the thalamus, the part of the brain that routes information, does not develop for another 20 weeks. In other words the pathways that would deliver pain sensations to the cortex do not exist before 28 weeks. That is why the laws have said 24 weeks, precisely because it provides a period before pain sensations can exist so that there is no mistake. In addition, the urgency of the matter is not merely whether the fetus might experience pain, because the fetus would be totally anesthetized totally unconscious and oblivious. The problem is that anesthesia could have and has had serious, even fatal, effects upon the mother. So this is another reason that doctors, not preachers or politicians, decide when the final date for a necessary abortion can be scheduled. There is no question that the fetus may have reflex reactions, some quite early, that give the strong appearance of pain. The fact is, however, that the fetus itself has no consciousness or any physiological possibility of pain at that point.
And there are other factors. Obstetric surgeons and their associations have said that it is clear that the body itself provides a nature anesthetic in the form of adenosine contained in the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus. Further indications that the fetus does not experience pain before 24 weeks and likely 28 weeks is the fact that the sensory reactions that are often visible are not only seen in viable fetuses but in those with no brain capacity at all. In other words, the reactions are simply that and not reactions moving the limbs or other movements as a result of impulses returning from the brain.
Which brings us to the term, the non-medical term, “partial birth abortion.” This term refers to the procedure known in medical circles as “intact dilation and extraction.” The term “partial birth abortion” is slang for this procedure, which was entered into the vernacular through insertion in a piece of legislation by anti-abortion advocates and has stuck as a quick reference for the procedure. This is a procedure that is done in only approximately 2,200 cases out of approximately one million, (22 out of 10,000.) The procedure is illegal in the United States since the Supreme Court decision in 2003 in the Partial Birth Abortion Act. The Supreme Court ruled that partial birth abortion, even if the mother’s life is at risk, is illegal. While most citizens polled agreed with the ruling, given the gruesome nature of the way the procedure is described, the medical profession hailed it as a “new low” in legislation having to do with serious health matters in that the attitudes of politicians were substituted for the opinion of the medical profession. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called it “shameful and incomprehensible” and “ignorant of medical consensus” and “chilling for the medical profession.”
None of this touches on the realities of abortion. One small example is the African-American community. What is needed, clearly, in the African-American community are not harsh punishments but education. African-American women are four times more likely to have an abortion than white women. If abortions were more severely restricted, they would have exactly the opposite effect that all those in American society outside the most callous racists, namely an increase in the education and occupational choices of African-American women. In the 1950s Black women were more likely to be married than White women and only 9 percent of African-American household were headed by a single parent. In the 1950s over half of all Black children would live with both biological parents in the household to adulthood. By 1980 that had been reduced to 6 percent. In 1959, only 2 percent of Black children were born illegitimately. Today the number approaches 60%.
Disregarding for a minute what policies written by Whites caused a people devastated by slavery and then 100 years of Black Codes–who were trending up—to suffer these setbacks, they exist. We need to address Black teenage pregnancy with a vigorous, legitimate effort in education and behavioral therapy, in addition to the obvious need for occupational skills development. Making abortion more difficult and combining it with restrictions on contraception is a return to outdated ideals without taking into consideration the entirely new world that did not exist in 1950 and earlier. We have a different society, one that has dropped the conventional family from 80% of households to 60%. We not only have more single individual households, we have dramatically more single households headed by women. In the White community that is harmful to income. In the Black community that is devastating. In the case of long-term prison inmates, White or Black, fully 70% were raised in a household with no father present.
The obvious solution is to create conditions where Black men will stay in the household, have jobs, and create families…as was the case in an earlier era. But the idea that putting the burden of raising even more children on young Black fathers will give them more incentive to stay in the home is absurd and ludicrous thinking. We live in an era of vast opportunities. We all need to be put in touch with those opportunities. Pseudo-religious claptrap thinking, emotional appeals to raise money for political campaigns while sacrificing our young women is not the solution.
But there is one good, simple solution. Because this is a problem that 100% of all pregnant women must address and zero percent of men must address, the issue should be on a referendum where only women should be allowed in the polling places. Women should decide these matters. All the ramifications of pregnancy and terminating pregnancy should be decided only by those who have the most to lose or gain—American women.