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Our states are laboratories -- run right now by mad scientists

Dana Milbank on

Louis Brandeis imagined that states could serve as laboratories of democracy. At the moment, they are serving as a bunch of mad scientists.

The late Supreme Court justice envisioned states trying "novel social and economic experiments." But he could not have anticipated just how novel the thinking would be of Alabama state Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R), author of the state's toughest-in-the-nation law, which bans virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.

"I'm not trained medically so I don't know the proper medical terminology and timelines," the legislator-scientist said during this week's debate on his bill. "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. ... It takes some time for all those chromosomes and all that."

Chambliss then argued that, under his law, women would be free to get abortions during this period of time -- so long as they don't yet know they are pregnant. So a victim of incest could get an abortion? "Yes, until she knows she's pregnant," he reasoned, as journalist Abbey Crain recounted.

The genius behind the abortion law elaborated: "She has to do something to know whether she's pregnant or not. It takes time for all the chromosomes to come together."

The poor fellow seems to have confused chromosomes, the genetic material that combines during fertilization, with the hormones detected in pregnancy tests.

 

So, once an egg is fertilized, no more abortions? Chambliss floundered: "I'm at the limits of my medical knowledge, but until those chromosomes you were talking about combine -- from male and female -- that's my understanding." Contradicting himself, he also said that throwing away eggs that were fertilized in vitro wouldn't land you in jail because "it's not in a woman. She's not pregnant."

He similarly was confused about how a doctor, who under the law would face imprisonment for assisting with an abortion, would discern between the identical symptoms of a woman miscarrying (which would still be legal) and one having a medication-induced abortion. "The burden of proof would be on the prosecution," he said -- thus opening the 25 of pregnancies that end in miscarriages to law enforcement probes.

When one woman in the chamber questioned his familiarity with female reproduction, Chambliss replied: "I don't know if I'm smart enough to be pregnant."

The better question is whether he's smart enough to be writing laws.

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