As a number of states have recently advanced increasingly severe abortion restrictions, it’s important to remember many of the lawmakers pushing this legislation don’t actually understand abortion or the way pregnancy works.
Last week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed into law a ban on abortion after just six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant. On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed into law another near-total abortion ban, with narrow exceptions only in cases when the pregnancy poses a serious risk to the life of the pregnant person.
The bans — which have not yet gone into effect, and are expected to be blocked in court before they do — are a good reminder that many of the lawmakers pushing abortion restrictions aren’t doing so with arguments rooted in science.
Here are a few of the most ridiculous arguments that anti-abortion lawmakers have made to justify their positions:
Alabama state Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R), one of the bill’s sponsors, argued on the Senate floor Tuesday that the abortion ban would only affect women when they “are known” to be pregnant.
“I’m not trained medically so I don’t know the proper medical terminology and timelines. But from what I’ve read, what I’ve been told, there’s some period of time before you can know a woman is pregnant,” Chambliss said.
Chambliss went on to argue that under the bill, a woman could still end her pregnancy “up until the point she is known to be pregnant.”
He did not explain how women and gender minorities can get an abortion if they do not actually know they are pregnant. State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D), one of three women senators in the state, pressed him on this exact point.
“You men don’t know what you don’t know because you’ve never been pregnant,” Coleman-Madison said. “You can’t get pregnant, you’ve never been pregnant, you don’t know what it’s like to be pregnant, you don’t know what a woman goes through when she’s pregnant.”
“Senator, I don’t know if I’m smart enough to be pregnant, so I appreciate the wisdom of our heavenly father,” he replied.
Women and gender minorities typically first question they are pregnant after they miss a period or see another symptom — which can then be verified by a pregnancy test. People do not seek abortions before knowing they are pregnant.
Chambliss is a cisgender man, and he physically cannot get pregnant regardless of how smart he is or is not.
While discussing the proposed six-week abortion ban last month, Georgia state Sen. William T. Ligon, Jr. (R) argued that the way to tell if a person is alive is to see if they have a beating heart without “artificial life support.”
“In modern medicine, we know that life in the womb begins at conception. We know that the child’s life is unique with his or her own DNA and blood type,” Ligon said. “Certainly we know, even as a child would know, that life is present at the sound of a heartbeat.
“In every other context of law, we recognize that a person is alive if they have a beating heart that is beating on its own without artificial life support. And when that heartbeat stops, life has ended. Why wouldn’t we recognize that a new person is alive in the womb in the presence of a beating heart?”
Ligon did not address whether people with pacemakers are alive.
The six-week ban, also known as the so-called “fetal heartbeat” ban, prohibits abortion after a physician can detect cardiac activity, or as early as six weeks’ gestation. “Fetal heartbeat” ban is actually a misnomer, according to experts.
Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an OB/GYN based in Canada, says the term “fetal pole cardiac activity” would be more accurate because that’s the first visible sign of a developing embryo. A fetus is typically formed around 10 weeks. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court upheld the right to abortion until the point of viability, when the fetus can actually survive outside the womb — which can occur at different times for every pregnancy, but which is generally understood to be at around 24 weeks.
Georgia Sen. P.K. Martin (R) said abortion is not okay because brainwaves indicate the pregnant person and the fetus are two separate people.
“Science and biology through things like DNA and heartbeats and brainwaves and pain response tell us that there are two unique human beings involved.”
It’s not clear what he means by brainwaves, but fetuses are not considered unique human beings because they cannot survive on their own outside of a womb. The idea that early fetuses have a “pain response” is also not scientifically accurate. Scientific consensus is that fetuses have no capacity to feel pain until around 23 weeks of pregnancy, close to the point of viability.
Georgia state Sen. Matt Brass (R) claimed that we have scientific proof that the embryo is “distinct and it is whole,” that it is “a whole human being,” and that it is an entirely “separate entity from its mother.”
What is the unborn? Science has definitively answered that question — leading embryology books say that from the beginning, from conception, the unborn is living, it is distinct and it is whole. It is a whole human being. So how is it living? It fits the definition of an organism that we all learned about in junior high life science class: it grows, meaning it undergoes cellular reproduction. It metabolizes, meaning it turns food into energy. And it responds to stimuli. What makes it distinct? Well it is a separate entity from its mother, with its own unique genetic code that is different from its mother’s and, yes, it’s father’s. If it was part of a woman’s body and not simply attached to her, a pregnant mother would be said to have four arms or four legs or two heads.
Brass also compared abortion to the Holocaust and slavery, saying that they are all based on the “dangerous idea that some human beings matter more than others.”
Again, Brass was discussing the state’s six-week abortion ban during this conversation. During this point in pregnancy, an embryo is not a separate entity that can survive outside the womb.
U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) said last week that the state’s six-week abortion ban is logical because doctors rely on the heartbeat to detect whether someone is alive or not.
“The critical part of this is, look, the heartbeat has been used in science for many, many, many years as a detection of life,” he explained. “If you are in the hospital, if you’re having issues, they are checking for heartbeat, to see ‘Do you have a heartbeat?’ That’s gonna tell the doctors whether you’re alive or not. These babies that have heartbeats have a complete circulatory system. You can take an image of a child at that stage of life and show it to a young child and they are going to identify that is a baby.”
But hospitals and first responders have often revived people whose hearts have stopped beating and have indeed even utilized artificial and transplanted hearts in thousands of people each year. Many of these survivors would be surprised to learn that Loudermilk now considers them dead.
Last week, Ohio state Rep. John Becker (R) introduced a bill prohibiting insurance coverage for abortion in cases where the pregnant person’s health is not in danger.
The bill, however, included an exception for a medical procedure that doesn’t even exist.
HB 182 allows insurance companies to cover “a procedure for an ectopic pregnancy, that is intended to reimplant the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman’s uterus.”
This is not medically possible, and there is no medical technology than can do this.
An ectopic pregnancy is one in which a fertilized egg implants outside or in a wrong part of the uterus — most commonly in the fallopian tube, a narrow pathway that carries the egg from the ovary to the uterus. Medical experts do not consider treating an ectopic pregnancy to a termination of a pregnancy, since it would not result in the birth of a child. Ectopic pregnancies can be deadly, however, due to ruptures and hemorrhages.
There is no medical treatment that can re-implant an embryo, despite the bill’s carveout.
“That doesn’t exist in the realm of treatment for ectopic pregnancy,” Jamie Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said. “You can’t just reimplant. It’s not a medical thing.”
When Becker was questioned about his bill’s banning coverage of contraceptive devices — like certain IUDs — he suggested pharmaceutical companies “reformulate” their products.
“When you get into the contraception and abortifacients, that’s clearly not my area of expertise, but I suppose, if it were true that what we typically know as the pill would be classified as an abortifacient, then I would imagine the drug manufacturers would reformulate it so it’s no longer an abortifacient and is strictly a contraceptive.”
While considering an anti-abortion bill in 2015, Idado state Rep. Vito Barbieri (R) proposed a new approach. Barbieri asked a doctor testifying before the State Affairs Committee if a woman could have a remote gynecological exam by swallowing a tiny camera.
Barbieri, a board member at a “crisis pregnancy center” that works to mislead patients to convince them not to get abortions, still voted for the bill to ban telemedicine abortion even after she explained that items that are swallowed go through the digestive tract, not to the vagina.
Missouri Senate nominee says women can shut down a pregnancy if they’re raped
In 2012, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), then the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri, infamously suggested that “the female body has ways” to shut down pregnancy from “a legitimate rape.”
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” he said, referring to pregnancies from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
Women and gender minorities cannot shut down a pregnancy simply because they were raped. There is no physical response to sexual assault that affects conception. Akin lost his race in large part due to public outrage over these uninformed comments.
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