This article was first published in On Line Opinion
US Republican Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann started her campaign as the Tea Party Queen, promising fiscal conservatism and an end to “Obamacare,” otherwise known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that in 2010 extended health care insurance to some 30 million Americans, arousing the fury of many who feared it was an indicator of what they allege is President Obama’s destructive inclination towards socialism.
Bachmann describes herself as a social conservative who believes that wives must be submissive to their husbands. She is the mother of five children, and appears to be of the opinion that it is virtuous to produce large families. She is a graduate of the Oral Roberts University, a Christian college where she studied tax law at the insistence of her husband, and where she learned that Christian morality is the basis of US law.
The term “social conservative” is considered by some in the US blogosphere to be code for evangelical Christian or Christian conservatism. Bachmann believes that what the US needs now is a marriage between fiscal and social conservatism, a marriage that she is attempting to contrive as the Tea Party’s apparent willingness to risk national default in the pursuit of their political goals saw some of their supporters take a set against them, and against Bachmann herself. Bachmann’s fortunes also took a turn for the worse when Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the Presidential race. In an effort to regain ground, Bachmann is now appealing directly to evangelical Christians, and focusing her efforts on gaining the support of conservative Christian voters.
The Heartbeat Informed Consent Act
To this end, Congresswoman Bachmann has proposed a bill in the US House of Representatives known as the Heartbeat Informed Consent Act. This is federal legislation that would require pregnant women to have ultrasounds, and be shown pictures of the foetus they are carrying before an abortion could be performed.
The Act also requires that doctors be required by federal law to capture the sound of the feotal heartbeat and play it to the pregnant woman, before an abortion can legally be performed.
Penalties for abortions carried out without observance of these proposed laws are fines of $100,000 for the first offence, and $250,000 for repeat offences.
The premise on which the proposed bill is based is that a woman is far less likely to go through with an abortion if she sees the foetus, and hears the heartbeat. To this end, the proposed legislation requires that ultrasound pictures “accurately portray the presence of external members and internal organs, if present.”
Right-to-lifers have apparently given up attempting outright to have all abortion criminalized. Instead they are adopting a back door approach that seeks to move the permissible time frame to when the foetal heartbeat can be detected, thus legally redefining “life.” The heartbeat can be heard as early as eighteen days, and in Ohio, for example, the state version of the “Heartbeat Bill” proposes that all abortion is outlawed after a heartbeat is detected.
There is little likelihood of Bachmann’s federal bill getting past the Senate, and President Obama has let it be known that in the event that it does, he will veto it. However, a very similar piece of legislation known as the Informed Consent Bill is now being advocated in every US state, by anti abortion groups who are aware that Bachmann’s bill won’t be legislated at the federal level. At the state level this bill is backed by major conservative groups such as National Right to Life, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Americans United for Life, Susan B Anthony’s List, and Family Research Council Action. In some states the bill stands a good chance of becoming law. In Rick Perry’s Texas for example, the bill has passed through two readings and requires only one more.
The Protect Life Act
This Act recently passed the House of Representatives with every Republican voting in favour, along with eleven Democrats who crossed the aisle to join them.
The Protect Life Act prohibits women from buying health insurance plans that cover abortion under the Affordable Care Act, and makes it legal for hospitals to deny abortions to pregnant women with life-threatening conditions. Its purpose is ostensibly to ensure that no taxpayer dollars flow to health care plans that cover abortion. In fact it is already against the law in the US to use taxpayer funds for abortion procedures, a fact right-to-lifers consistently ignore or misrepresent. Abortions are covered only by private insurance payments. However, this Bill would prevent women from buying an insurance plan that includes abortion through a state health care exchange, even though most private plans currently cover abortion.
The Protect Life Act also allows hospitals morally opposed to abortion, such as Catholic institutions, to do nothing for a woman who needs an emergency abortion to save her life. Hospitals in the US currently have an obligation to provide care in a medical emergency, however under the new Act that obligation would legally come second to the institutions’ moral objections to providing abortions.
This bill is also likely to be defeated in the Senate, and again President Obama has signaled his intention to veto the bill should it land on his desk.
However, it’s worth remembering that every Republican voted for it, as well as eleven Democrats.
In some quarters the bill has become known as the “Let Women Die Bill.”
Vow to withdraw federal funding for contraception.
Another Republican Presidential hopeful, Catholic father of seven Rick Santorum, has vowed to repeal all federal funding for contraception should he be elected President, on the grounds that contraception “is a license to do things in the sexual realm.” Santorum also holds the view that “ sex is supposed to be within marriage,” and he talks at length about “the dangers of contraception.” Santorum, like Bachmann, is a social and fiscal conservative.
Mitt the Mormon Bishop.
Mormon feminist academic Professor Judith Dushku developed a life-threatening blood clot when she was pregnant with her sixth child. Arrangements were made to abort the foetus and thus save her life. When Dushku arrived at the hospital for the procedure she was met by her then Mormon bishop and father of five, Mitt Romney. The following exchange allegedly took place between Dushku and Romney:
He said – What do you think you’re doing?
She said – Well, we have to abort the baby because I have these blood clots.
And he said something to the effect of – Well, why do you get off easy when other women have their babies?
And she said – What are you talking about? This is a life-threatening situation.
And he said – Well what about the life of the baby?
And she said – I have four other children and I think it would be really irresponsible to continue the pregnancy.
Dushku proceeded with the termination, and lived to bring up her four children. Though previously friends Romney and Dushku no longer speak, at his insistence.
In 2005 as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney revealed a change of principles on abortion, moving from the “unequivocal” pro-choice position he adopted throughout his 2002 gubernatorial campaign, to a staunch pro-life stand that saw him veto a bill that would expand access to emergency contraception in hospitals and pharmacies, on pro-life grounds. Romney revealed to Dushka prior to their falling out that he had only adopted his pro-choice stand because he’d been advised it would be more appealing to voters, and that his true position had always been one of pro-life.
Meanwhile, back in Australia
If an election were held in Australia today it would be won by the Coalition, headed by Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott is a Catholic. In 2004 when he was Federal Health Minister, Mr Abbott stated in an interview with ABC Radio’s AM program that he was concerned about the “abortion epidemic” apparently raging in Australia. He said:
I certainly share the concerns that many people have about the number of abortions that are taking place in Australia today. We have something like 100,000 abortions a year, 25 per cent of all pregnancies end in abortion and even the most determined pro-choice advocates these days seem to be rightly concerned at the way that the abortion epidemic has developed.
The then Health Minister was supported in his concerns by his then junior Minister, Christopher Pyne, who expressed his moral difficulties with late-term abortion.
On ABC Radio’s PM program November 15 2005, then Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott explained why he had refused to approve the use of the abortion pill RU-486 for Australian women as follows:
TONY ABBOTT: I conclude that there is no reason, based on the report from the Chief Medical Officer, to change longstanding practice in regards to RU-486.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: But the AMA says itself, that it is the best and safest, or it is an option for the best and safest termination, where doctors are assessing the risks to the patient.
TONY ABBOTT: That’s not my reading of the report from the Chief Medical Officer. My reading of that report is that there are significant additional health risks associated with medical terminations, and that the safest way to have a termination is a surgical termination.
CATHERINE MCGRATH: To say the AMA is stunned is an understatement, and the peak medical body takes issue with the advice Tony Abbott has received.
The AMA said Mr Abbott’s information on RU-486 “is plain wrong” and “ignores international research.” The AMA further said that the drug would be denied to Australian women for political reasons.
Then there’s this piece on Abbott’s website titled: Rate of Abortion Highlights our Moral Failings. The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience… Even those who think that abortion is a woman’s right should be troubled by the fact that 100,000 Australian women choose to destroy their unborn babies every year… When it comes to lobbying local politicians, there seems to be far more interest in the treatment of boatpeople, which is not morally black and white, than in the question of abortion, which is.
The belief that the question of abortion is “morally black and white” is one Tony Abbott shares with evangelical Michele Bachmann, Mormon Mitt Romney, and fellow Catholic Rick Santorum. Australian women should be very concerned about living under an Abbott-led Coalition government. Abbott’s stated (and written) beliefs on abortion are deeply entrenched. As Federal Health Minister he managed to prevent Australian women accessing RU-486 on entirely spurious grounds, grounds that were fiercely contested by medical experts, and international research. This is the action of a man whose decisions about women’s reproductive rights are determined solely by his religious faith.
RU-486 is still not readily available. There are only approximately 100 doctors Australia-wide who are Authorised Prescribers of the drug, and then only within their own practices and hospitals, the majority of which are in capital cities.
Do Australian women want to risk Tony’s rosaries on our ovaries again?
Abortion in Australia is a state, not federal matter. Laws vary between the states. In NSW, Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania, abortion is subject to criminal law codes and acts. In the ACT there are no laws regarding abortion in the Crimes Act, and in Victoria the procedure is covered by the 2008 Abortion Law Reform Bill.
In Queensland in 2010 a young couple was prosecuted for obtaining an “unlawful abortion” after self-administering medication designed to cause early abortion. They were found not guilty. That such a case could be brought highlights the urgent need for abortion law reform in Australia. It’s well worth a visit to this site for examples of why such reform is imperative for women, and to see evidence that the Australian debate is in some quarters unnervingly similar to that in the USA.
An Abbott-led government is not good for Australian women’s reproductive health and our hard-won right to choose.
- Abortion foes push fetal heartbeat bills (cbsnews.com)
- How to Chip Away at Abortion Rights without Making Abortion Illegal (onebluestocking.wordpress.com)
- Proposed U.S. abortion law would require women see and hear fetal heartbeat (theglobeandmail.com)