Republicans, choice and pain

Two-thirds of American voters support Roe v. Wade. Women overwhelmingly favored Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, the Republican who wanted to de-fund Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe. Public approval of Congress is at or near its lowest level ever recorded, and public overall has an even worse opinion of the GOP than of Democrats.

So naturally with all these facts in mind, it was time for the House Republicans to band together to pass legislation that restricts women's right to choose in a manner that is not only patently unconstitutional but has no chance of passage in the Senate whatsoever. And that's not even taking into account the obstacle of a president who has pledged to veto it.


Is there some point at which the GOP's appetite for political self-destruction will ever be sated? Or is the party so dominated by social-issue zealots that they are incapable of staying focused on more pressing issues like the economy and jobs?

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act approved by House Republicans Tuesday is the sort of legislation that must cause even the most ardent Republican supporters to wonder if the party is doomed on the national stage. The legislation turns on questionable science — the suggestion that a fetus after 20 weeks is capable of feeling pain — and uses it as an excuse to reduce access to abortion.


Indeed, "questionable" may be too generous a description on the viewpoint that seems to have caught fire in recent years in certain rural states like South Carolina and Texas, 11 of which have approved laws with similar restrictions. But it's also in direct opposition to the mainstream medical view that holds that the nervous system is not sufficiently developed until the third trimester, and even then a fetus is unconscious in the womb.

Of course, the prevailing scientific view is irrelevant to supporters. The proposal is simply a new prong in the attack against Roe and the possibility that somehow a five-vote majority on the Supreme Court will buy into this latest argument and set a new standard for privacy and women's rights. And Tuesday's vote was a purely political exercise, an opportunity for House members to give their stamp of approval toward the effort.

Surely, they are hoping that voters disgusted by the case of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor recently convicted of killing born-alive infants, will somehow see this as a repudiation of murder and not an effort to drive abortion underground. And clearly, they don't want people to realize that the best way to prevent such atrocities is to support family planning.

While we appreciate that some people have strong religious views on this matter, the GOP could have easily offered legislation to actually reduce the number of abortions in this country by attacking the problem of unintended pregnancy. The U.S. has made little progress in reducing unintended pregnancies since the mid-1990s, and it's gotten worse since then for women with incomes below the federal poverty line.

Such a proposal might have focused on educating young people on contraception or spending more on family planning outreach. As two-thirds of the deliveries in unplanned pregnancies are publicly funded (at a cost of billions annually), this might even be presented as a deficit-reduction effort.

But no, the House majority wasn't interested in finding common ground with Democrats or improving the lives of women or even reducing the number of abortions. They sought only to buoy their standing with anti-abortion groups. The original version of the legislation, the one passed by the House Judiciary Committee, did not even contain an exception for rape, incest or the health of the mother. Those narrow exceptions were added late in the process by House leaders who, at least to some extent, realized the folly of this effort.

Republicans say they hate it when Democrats claim they've undertaken a "war on women." But how else can one describe this? At best, it was a largely symbolic salvo in the war on women's right to choose with a pseudo-scientific angle of attack. But underneath, it's really the same old effort to control women's reproductive choices by a political party that should know better.