FORT WORTH, Texas -- There's nothing particularly remarkable about politicians putting their feet in their mouths. It happens all the time, often with impunity.
But comments that Pennsylvania state Rep. Wendy Ullman made about miscarriage last week went far beyond the typical gaffe.
Ullman represents a district in Bucks County, Pa., very close to where I grew up, which is just part of why her words hit so close to home, pun not intended.
During a state House Health Committee hearing Ullman, a Democrat, said: "We all understand the concept of the loss of a fetus, but we're also talking about a woman who comes into a facility and is having cramps. And ... not to be concrete, but an early miscarriage is just some mess on a napkin."
Her remarks came during a discussion of legislation that would require facilities regulated by the state to inform a woman who has miscarried or had an abortion that she is entitled to her child's remains and require abortion facilities to dispose of fetal remains (not claimed) through internment or cremation.
The proposed bill isn't wholly dissimilar to the Texas law that would require abortion clinics to dispose of fetal remains in the same fashion. That law has yet to go into effect pending court battles, which state lawyers are attempting to revive after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar law in Indiana earlier this year.
To call Ullman's remarks callous would be exceedingly generous, particularly for the millions of women who are devastated by miscarriages.
But Ullman's comments are even more repugnant given that her election was part of the 2018 Democratic midterm sweep of progressive female candidates, and largely a rebuke to the perceived (and very real) misogyny of President Donald Trump.
In a social moment in which people on the political left are quick to call regretful or even innocent words violence, it's hard to imagine words more materially harmful to the vast majority of women than what Ullman said.
Of course, conservatives have their own history of unfortunate word-choice to contend with. Who can forget former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin and his atrocious "legitimate rape" comments? And don't get me started on Trump.
The whataboutism could continue for pages without resolution. That isn't the point.
Ullman has since apologized. In a Twitter thread, she said she was near tears during the hearing, while relaying the story of a dear friend who had experienced miscarriage.
"This issue is intensely important to me," she said, while acknowledging that she chose her words poorly.
Maybe. But I'm more concerned the opposite is true, that her words were intentional; that Ullman, who is pro-choice, meant exactly what she said.
Unfortunate words, while painful, are forgivable. If her apology is sincere, she deserves our pardon.
What's harder to excuse is the underlying thinking -- the progressive, pro-abortion theology -- that animated her comments.
Because calling a miscarriage a "mess on a napkin" isn't a far cry from "shouting your abortion" -- the viral social media campaign that has been championed by some abortion-rights activists. The same belief system permeates both: Life begins when we say it does, and a person's value is determined by how much they are wanted.
It was around this time last year that I shared the story of my own miscarriages. That column was aptly titled, "Here's why politics shouldn't enter a discussion about miscarriage." Ullman's remarks are another reminder of why that's still true.
As I wrote at the time, to truly appreciate a miscarriage for what it is -- the loss of a child, not merely the promise of one -- we have to first accept a fundamental truth about life and death and human dignity. "A person's a person no matter how small."
That isn't political. It isn't even debatable. At least it shouldn't be.
Those persons, the small ones, and the women who bear them deserve more from all of us.
And they deserve better from Ullman.
About The Writer
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.
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