Do women who undergo late-term abortions suffer as much as God wants them to?
Michigan state Sen. Kim LaSata doesn't think so.
Ever since the new state Legislature convened four months ago, LaSata and her Republican colleagues have been waiting for the chance to shove their deeply held religious convictions down the throats of Michigan's wayward women.
Over weeks of hearings, they've heard physicians warn that GOP efforts to outlaw the surgical procedure commonly used to end second-trimester pregnancies would make such abortions more painful and hazardous for the women who undergo them.
Tuesday, when the proposed ban finally came to a vote, LaSata's impatience with all those godless medical experts finally got the better of her.
"Of course it should be hard!" the senator from St. Joseph exclaimed. "And the procedure should be painful! And you should allow God to take over!! And you should deliver that baby!"
Dismissing the opposition of physicians' groups like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, whose representative told legislators that banning the procedure known as dilation and evacuation would endanger patients' safety, LaSata recounted her own unsuccessful efforts to abort a fetus her doctors warned her would not survive its birth.
LaSata told colleagues she had delivered a stillborn baby after her own D&E procedure went awry. LaSata cited her traumatic experience as evidence "of God looking out for me," and suggested that all women carrying medically unviable fetuses would be better off carrying their pregnancies to term.
"You should allow God to take over and deliver that baby," she said, "and it shouldn't be made easier for you."
The good news for LaSata and other champions of redemptive suffering is that late-term abortions are likely to remain hard, painful and traumatic for those who undergo them, whatever state legislators do.
Lori Carpentier, the president of Planned Parenthood of Michigan, notes that women who elect D&E procedures are typically expectant mothers who, like LaSata, have received catastrophic diagnoses after wanted pregnancies were well advanced.
"These are people who have had baby showers and folded new baby clothes in anticipation of birth, only to be have been handed the tragic news that their fetuses are not viable," Carpentier said.
If GOP legislators are out to make those women's lives just a little more hellish, the bills both chambers adopted this week on straight party-line votes are a good start.
House Bill 4320, sponsored by Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.), would outlaw the D&E procedure most commonly used to end second-trimester abortions. HB 4321, a companion bill sponsored by Rep. Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids), would make doctors who perform the procedure guilty of a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Neither measure is destined to become law any time soon, of course. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer isn't any likelier to sign new abortion restrictions into law than her Republican predecessor was, and GOP legislators still don't have the votes to override a gubernatorial veto.
So why, with the urgent business of crumbling roads, auto insurance reform and failing schools still hanging fire, did Republican legislators squander an entire day passing a bill they can be certain will die on Whitmer's desk?
For starters, Tuesday's vote honors the party's obligation to Right to Life of Michigan, the indefatigable anti-abortion army without whose support the Republicans' legislative majority might not have survived last November's blue wave.
Right to Life has already signaled its intention to mount a petition drive in favor of the restrictions, a maneuver that would provide a path around Whitmer's opposition. If the group can gather the 340,000 signatures required to put a D&E ban on the 2020 ballot -- a campaign Catholic parishes around the state would almost certainly abet -- GOP legislators would likely adopt the petition language themselves, precluding both a statewide referendum on the ban and a second gubernatorial veto. (Unlike bills introduced by lawmakers themselves, legislation proposed by public initiative doesn't require the governor's signature to become law.)
But the anti-abortion coalition has always been a pragmatic alliance between true believers like LaSata and GOP strategists who care more about motivating the Republican base than achieving specific abortion policy outcomes. The latter measure their success in GOP turnout statistics, not the realization of Right-to-Life's agenda.
The Republican majority that rallied around the latest round of abortion restrictions undoubtedly includes plenty of lawmakers indifferent to the underlying issue. The realists among them know Right to Life's agenda is doomed in the long run, for the same reason that segregation was doomed after 1865.
Like the southern states that enacted Jim Crow laws after the Civil War, the anti-abortion movement is a force to be reckoned with. But the generations of women liberated by Roe v. Wade are as unlikely to resume their former status without a fight as the slaves freed by the 13th Amendment.
In the short term, though, many Republicans legislators have decided they have little to lose by appeasing the vital bloc of GOP voters who want to turn the clock back to 1972. They know the hurdles they erect will impede only those who lack the means the travel; as long as unrestricted abortions remain legal elsewhere, the legislators' know, their own wives, daughters and girlfriends will have access to them.
So they applaud politely while true believers like LaSata extol the virtues of suffering; the women in their lives will remain free to skirt it.
About The Writer
Brian Dickerson is the Free Press' editorial page editor.
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