Anti-Choicers Push South Carolina “Born Alive” Bill

by Cara on May 28, 2009

in abortion, anti-choice extremism, legislation, reproductive justice, women’s health

Via Daisy, I’ve learned of a new bill moving through the South Caroline legislature being referred to as the “born alive” bill.  The legislation would purportedly prevent “abortion” through the method of allowing a fetus/baby born alive to die without medical treatment.

A bill that would prevent a fetus from being thrown away as medical waste or to die outside the mother’s body as a form of abortion moved one step closer to law this morning after it passed a Senate subcommittee.

Senators amended the House-passed bill to note that nothing in the legislation affects state or federal laws on abortion or affects generally accepted medical standards.

The “born alive” bill now moves to the full Judiciary Committee.

The legislation defines a person as anyone who is breathing or who is born with a beating heart, no matter the means of birth or whether the result of an abortion.

If this bill sounds vaguely familiar to you, it’s likely because you’re thinking of a very similar one that was considered in Illinois — and which then Senator Obama was lambasted for opposing.

The question, of course, is what this bill is about.  Because if you know very much about abortion, you’ll know that the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed before it’s even remotely possible that a fetus could be born alive, and that with those abortions that are performed past that point — almost universally for medical reasons — a fetus being “born alive” is ridiculously rare.  In fact, the discovered fetus that spurned this legislation may not have been aborted at all, but miscarried — there’s seemingly no evidence where it came from.  Further those who know anything about medical ethics also know that doctors are already required by oath to provide medical treatment in such a circumstance.

Which means two things: 1. the bill is unnecessary because it legislates a situation which virtually never occurs and 2. even if the situation did arise at an even remotely frequent rate, this law wouldn’t change anything.

So, what’s the point?  Well, many would argue that it’s to extend the definition of personhood to include fetuses and thus undermine abortion rights.  It’s certainly possible, but if the definition described in the article quoted above is correct, it explicitly excludes unborn fetuses, as they do not breathe and, um, have not been born.  So while that’s always the first suspect, I’m not seeing it here.  Others could argue that it’s to scare doctors away from performing abortions.  But again, this would only work if aborted fetuses being born alive was an even remotely frequent occurrence, and if doctors were actually willing to then throw them out with medical waste while still breathing, therefore giving them something to worry about.  And you could say that it’s about undermining women’s health and safety by forcing doctors to use different methods of abortion, but the current methods work just fine and ensure that the chances of such botched abortions are negligible at most.

Therefore, I think that this is all about something else entirely — politics, of course.  The point is to portray fetuses as “babies,” to further the myth that abortions regularly take place at the late stages of pregnancy, and to remind everyone of how icky the procedure is.  It’s also to further the myth that abortion providers are heartless, baby-killing monsters who just throw living fetuses out with the trash.  It’s to present the exceedingly rare occurrence of an aborted fetus being “born alive” as common, and for doctors to kill it outside of the uterus as similarly frequent.  And lastly, it’s to place pro-choice politicians in a bind — either accept and reinforce this myth, or risk also being portrayed as heartless monsters.

Which is, in the end, about undermining a woman’s right to reproductive health care after all.  Just in the court of public opinion, thus setting the stage for future actually restrictive laws, rather than in the law books.

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{ 6 comments }

1 MomTFH May 28, 2009 at 8:43 pm

I don’t get it. Is there an age of viability in the law? Even the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t advocate resuscitating a fetus born before 24 gestational weeks. Is the law saying resuscitation is mandatory, or just that the fetus is not medical waste?

2 Therese May 28, 2009 at 9:03 pm

argh! why do they insist on spreading misleading information and ignorance?

3 jovan byars May 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm

At the end of the day, this sham of a bill just emboldens the far right to take away women’s reproductive rights.

Since you mentioned it here Cara, I’ll post the South Carolina State House switchboard info right here if you want to take action and demand the state Senate to defeat this proposal: 1-803-771-0131, Extension 102, or toll free at 1-866-340-7105.

4 Laurel May 29, 2009 at 5:19 am

Charming. They actually want to codify their sick fantasies about how evil women and doctors are…again (Gonzalez vs Carhart anyone?).

5 preying mantis May 29, 2009 at 7:01 am

“But again, this would only work if aborted fetuses being born alive was an even remotely frequent occurrence, and if doctors were actually willing to then throw them out with medical waste while still breathing, therefore giving them something to worry about.”

It doesn’t have to occur anywhere outside an anti-choicer’s overheated imagination in order for doctors who perform abortions to have something to worry about. How many times has Dr. Tiller been dragged into court on charges that proved groundless now? How much money has he spent defending himself and his clinic? How much time has he had to waste that could otherwise have been spent with patients or managing the facility? And that’s just one (admittedly high-profile) person.

Of course, much like in that Virginia bill that would have turned women who didn’t report an unattended miscarriage to the police within 72 hours into felons–you know, just in case somebody did something wrong–the collateral damage is pretty grim. Women who have suffered a late-term miscarriage or stillbirth could quite easily wind up getting dragged into a bullshit investigation by a witch-hunting prosecutor. Mothers who’ve just delivered a terminal infant would no longer have the option of just letting the child go with minimal suffering. Whatever ass-covering mechanism hospitals developed to make absolutely, positively sure that no one could charge anyone with anything would be imposed on the parents’ grieving process.

6 DaisyDeadhead May 31, 2009 at 6:55 pm

Cara, this was the first thing I thought of when I heard about Dr Tiller today…thanks for covering it.

Just speechless.

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