The Health of the Mother & Unelected Judges

In the VP debate last night, Paul Ryan clarified that “[t]he policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.” He also said that he and his running mate do not believe that “unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination.”

Let’s parse what this means. A Romney/Ryan administration would support any and all legislation that severely restricts access to abortion by making it legal only in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the life of the mother. They would support waiting periods, informed consent based on biased, medically inaccurate information, and mandatory dual-parent consent for minors seeking abortions. And they would expect courts to uphold those restrictions, even to the extent that such restrictions would gut and render meaningless the rights established in Roe v. Wade.

We would quickly find ourselves right back to the pre-Roe situation in which geography and financial wherewithal would dictate who could and who could not obtain an abortion.

While not as visually striking as John McCain’s air quote moment of four years ago, Ryan’s careful definition of just how severely a Romney/Ryan administration would seek to restrict abortion is just as important for people who believe that (a) women, not the government, should decide whether and when they should bear children, and (b) that doctors, not the government, should determine how they practice medicine.

Opponents of abortion rights believe that women are liars who will do anything to procure an abortion. They believe that allowing women to have an abortion when their health is at risk, when health could be broadly defined not only as something physical, but something emotional, leaves too much discretion in the hands of women and doctors.

Too much discretion in the hands of women and doctors?

Under a rape/incest/life-of-the-mother regime, a woman learning that her fetus suffers from a severe birth defect that would not allow it to live outside the womb would nevertheless be required to carry the fetus to term, or as close to term as she could, rather than seek an abortion.

It isn’t necessarily good for a woman’s emotional or physical health to carry a pregnancy to term knowing the pregnancy will not end with the healthy baby she hoped for, but with a baby in pain from the moment it is born to the very few hours or days later when it dies. In fact, it can be downright bad for her health. But she would be forced to remain pregnant carrying a non-viable fetus to term. Forced to remain pregnant.

Such a pregnancy could become dangerous, physically, to her life, but when a doctor could lose a license or go to jail for performing an abortion that some other person might deem only necessary to preserve health and not life, how life-threatening would a pregnancy have to become before a doctor would feel he or she was acting within the law?

What about rape? What hurdles must a woman clear in order to secure an abortion based on that exception? What if she doesn’t want to press charges? I wish all women felt comfortable pressing charges, but the fact is that many do not, and I have to respect that choice. I can imagine all sorts of scenarios in which a woman hopes the horrible thing that happened to her will just go away, but then finds herself pregnant two months later. Sadly, many police officers are skeptical of rape allegations made in the immediate aftermath of an assault—imagine how they would treat a report two moths after the fact when a woman is depending upon the police report to obtain an abortion. How much power does that put in the hands of a police officer and take away from both a woman and a doctor?

And then, incest. What if you are a teenager impregnated in a state that requires parental consent for abortion and proof that the pregnancy was the result of incest, but your father is the one who impregnated you, your mother refuses to believe you, and you are 12 years old?

The  problem with any and all hypothetical situations I could propose is that they suggest that one woman deserves an abortion but another does not. They suggest that anyone other than the woman in question is qualified to judge who is worthy of exercising the right to choose.

I am simply not comfortable saying that Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or any politician knows better than I do what I should do about an unwanted pregnancy. Period.

Judging which reason for an abortion is a worthy reason, a good enough reason, a reason that won’t expose a doctor to sanctions, demeans and diminishes the rights and autonomy of all women.

Individuals are entitled to believe what they believe. No one should be, or can be, as the laws currently stand in our country, forced to have an abortion.

But the reverse should also be true. No one should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term if she does not want to, regardless of how Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney feel about the pregnancy.

Their respect for life is meaningless if they don’t respect the lives of women.

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