GOP’s Personal Responsibility — Except for Abortion
Terry H. Schwadron
March 23, 2021
Whether the issue is masks and vaccines, health insurance, food security or even climate and pollution, the message from Republican leaders is clear: Get the nanny state off our backs, and accept personal responsibility and individualism.
That’s what pushes Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, to attack immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci over mask advice and prompts Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-SC, to vow a block on an Equality Bill, among others. Instead of Republican leaders telling spring breakers to knock off the mask-less gatherings, we have Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis patting himself on the back for promoting personal liberty.
Except in policies affecting abortion. Then, all of a sudden, we’re back to an insistence on government-enforced morality and a willingness to overlook all sense of personal and individual decision-making to preserve what they see as a “pro-life” stance that seems to end abruptly at birth. Once born, child and family must show personal responsibility for food, housing, jobs and the rest, so we can cut social services spending as “discretionary.”
This debate comes up anew now as multiple states where there are conservative majorities are passing a new slew of anti-abortion laws, in hopes that one will prompt the U.S. Supreme Court, with its emergent right-leaning majority of justices, to overturn legal abortion. NARAL Pro-Choice America is tracking 60 bills introduced or passed in state legislatures so far this year to restrict abortion.
And in White House, there is a pressure campaign for the Biden administration to change reproductive rights politics totally by making abortion-inducing pills available online through telemedicine that obviously can cross state or national borders.
Liberals are pushing the FDA to lift restrictions on a 20-year-old drug for terminating early pregnancies. By doing so, mail and internet could make terminal drugs available at a time when coronavirus restrictions have kept some abortion providers off-limits. Medication abortion relies on two pills — misoprostol, which is lightly regulated, and mifepristone, which has been more tightly regulated by FDA since its introduction in the market decades ago.
A Temporary Halt
In January, the Supreme Court agreed with the Trump administration and temporarily reinstated requirements that women seeking medication abortions receive the drugs in person at a clinic, setting aside a judge’s ruling that protocol was dangerous during the coronavirus pandemic. That stay will return the case to a federal appeals court in early April and Biden’s Justice Department must say whether it plans to keep enforcing those rules.
Under the previous administration, the FDA said that women must pick up the abortion pills at a medical facility rather than receive them by mail or delivery, though there is no requirement they take the medication in such a setting. Most take the pills ending pregnancy in its early stages at home.
State legislatures in Indiana, Montana, Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama are working to preemptively ban the pills or make them more difficult to obtain. How anyone would enforce such a ban seems impossible, of course.
The Biden’s pledge to “follow the science” in public health will get a new test here, data suggests that administering the abortion drugs remotely is safe and effective in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
One factor in the array of rules and decisions is the legal peril that women could face in those states that bar the two drugs or in discouraging women from seeking medical help if they have a complication. Even with abortion laws, women have faced prosecution for self-induced abortions. And, of course, there is an active underground market for the pills.
For years, Republicans have for years raised concerns about the safety of the pills; last year, 100 Republicans from each chamber of Congress urged the agency to take the drug off the market.
It’s not hard to see this issue, as with others, as a Wild West marketplace for authorized health services, made worse by coronavirus limitations.
Demand for abortion pills has soared over 20 years. In 2001, the drugs were used in 5% of abortions in the U.S. By 2017, that jumped to 39%, according to the Guttmacher Institute
States with Republican state legislative majorities are busy passing a passel of anti-abortion measures — with the apparent intent of producing the vehicle that will allow a now conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade. The Court is likely to continue to chip away at that decision legalizing abortion, if not find a reason to overturn it, with several justices attacking its legal provenance in various dissents.
Among the attempts is a new South Carolina law banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected, without regard to whether the pregnancy had been recognized. Tennessee passed a law granting fathers veto power over abortions. Other bills set increasing limited times for legal abortion. Arkansas has a law that says abortion would only be allowed in cases where it’s necessary to save the life or preserve the health of the fetus or mother, not even including situations of rape or incest, and performing or attempting to perform an abortion a felony — with Gov. Asa Hutchinson saying he hoped it would force the issue to the Court.
The pending medical abortion decision still presents a political quandary for Biden, who until recently was relatively conservative on abortion. Xavier Becerra, just narrowly confirmed as head of Health and Human Services, last year led a coalition of 21 Democratic attorneys general in petitioning the FDA to allow telemedicine abortions at least for the duration of the pandemic.
The trend towards use of abortion pills are likely to continue after the pandemic passes, of course, changing the nature of the debate. A January 2020 study in the American Journal of Public Health, for example, found increasing demand for one domestic tele-abortion service operating underground in states where state restrictions on in-person abortion clinics increased. The federal government has also been seizing more pills shipped in from abroad, according to a Politico.com analysis on the FDA’s seizures of misoprostol and mifepristone.
Abortions Rates Falling
In fact, abortion rates have been falling for the past 40 years, from a high of 29.3 induced abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age in 1981 to 13.5 per 1,000 in 2017, (Guttmacher’s most recent nationwide survey). The drop is true in states with relatively open access and in states with heavy regulation.
At the same time, the rate of live births has not risen, a trend, that among other things, is prompting economists to say demands a more open attitude towards immigration policies because the country will find itself in need of workers. But that’s a debate for another day.
Whether this is as a result of attitude changes, sought pregnancies, or, God forbid, the availability of birth control and young people heeding sex education information is not clear. But reported abortions through clinics are down — despite the conservative war on legal abortion.
This seems true internationally as well, as Argentina, Ireland and Uruguay have joined the legal abortion club.
David von Drehle, a Washington Post columnist, noted, “Since the introduction of the pill in 1960, the United States has been engaged in a grand experiment: What happens when women have autonomy over their bodies, and couples have easy access to a variety of birth-control methods? The results are in: Abortion rates go down — not because intrusive, punitive laws are passed but because fewer pregnancies are unwanted.”
Hmm. Sounds like a case of personal responsibility to me.