Republican politics has been an interesting show these last few years, particularly for women. We've heard all manner of hideous things expressed with absolute sincerity (which is more chilling, to me at least, then the alternative). We've saw GOP legislators vote to allow doctors to withhold vital information about a woman's health if it might prevent an abortion. We've heard a presidential candidate rail about the “dangers” of giving women the freedom to decide when and if they become parents through contraception use. We've heard that any difference we see in our pay compared to a man doing the same job is pretty much our fault, because we don't care enough about money. Richard Mourdock theorized that rape babies were "a gift from God". Rick Santorum, too, thinks that pregnant rape victims should just “make the best of a bad situation” because a rape baby is a “gift from God”. And we've heard Todd Akin declare that “legitimate” rapes don't actually result in pregnancies anyway. And the list goes on.
When these hardline views made people uneasy, the response was “but these don't represent us!” Thus people distanced themselves from the Todd Akin's of the world. But the funny – not “amusing” funny, but groanworthy funny – part of it? These people might have expressed their opinions in a public way that embarrassed the party; but they were not anomalies. For all the people who received a lot of heat for insisting that rape victims should be forced to gestate and birth their rapists' children because it's God's will, consider that the Republican Party platform's anti-abortion language contains no exception for rape victims, or even for the health and life of the mother. And it didn't receive much press, but Paul Ryan informed us that rape is a “method of conception” and therefore not a reason for abortion. This is the party itself, and the vice presidential candidate of that party, we're talking about – not a surprisingly large number of “random kooks”. It was that same vice presidential candidate who worked with Mr. “Legitimate Rape” Akin to pass a personhood bill that would have criminalized any procedure that would endanger a fertilized egg, an embryo or a fetus' existence – even if it was necessary to save the life of the mother. In other words, the tea party favorite, star of the Republican party, vice presidential nominee believes that a pregnant woman's “right to life” can be superseded by a fetus, embryo or zygote's. Now, you cannot be both the savior of your party and a “fringe weirdo”; you cannot label as crazy the views of legislators who speak exactly what is in your platform.
But if you thought that the Republicans had learned anything from their overwhelming defeat last time, well, some of them are anxious to disappoint. Enter that tea party favorite and last year's vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, and a new personhood bill.
Now, if you're wondering what exactly a “personhood bill” is and what the big deal about it might be, the text of it can be found here. The long and short of it is that, from the moment of fertilization (prior even to implanting in the uterine wall; which is important, as we'll discuss in a minute), a human egg and its subsequent forms are people, and due all the rights of such. This means, first and foremost, abortion is illegal, regardless of the circumstance. Pregnancy because of rape, for instance? Too bad – time to “make the best of a bad situation”, as Rick Santorum would put it. But it goes much further than that. It effectively makes any medical procedure that would destroy a zygote, embryo or fetus illegal (at least when used with pregnant women, if that procedure has other uses). How? Because if an embryo is a human being with an inviolable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, killing it – even to save the mother's life – would be homicide. (This isn't speculation, by the by; this is what happens in countries with personhood laws – what is happening, and what continues to happen. The “right to life” of the fetus cannot be interfered with, even if that means the mother dies. In the cases of Savita Halappanavar and the 16-year-old leukemia patient who recently made headlines, the fetuses had no chance of survival anyway; but because doctors could not terminate those lives, life saving care was withheld from the women who could have been saved) . The fact that a fertilized egg would be a “person” under the law regardless of whether or not it has successfully implanted in the uterine lining has another chilling implication; it means that even in an ectopic pregnancy where the fetus has no chance of living, because it has implanted in some other area of the body where it cannot survive but can and will kill the mother if allowed to continue to grow, care cannot be administered. In other words, such an amendment would turn back the clock on pregnancy care, dictating that women who encounter entirely treatable pregnancy complications would die in the name of Republican “pro-life” beliefs.
This would also all but ban IVF (those fertilized eggs are all people; and the last time I checked, you can't just put a person in the freezer), would necessarily involve the law in tragedies like miscarriage (if a person dies, the law is involved), etc., etc. Similar objections have been made known to Ryan and his colleagues (Democrats dubbed an attempt to push through legislation that would let hospitals receiving public funds opt out of saving women's lives if it meant providing an emergency abortion the “let women die” bill; and it still passed the House). Yet these bills keep coming.
It's early in the legislative season, but if what we see so far is anything to go by, the Paul Ryan's of the world have learned nothing from the last election.