In a World Where the Stated Motives for HR-1171 Matched the Real Ones, This Argument Would Work

Dear CF,

I’m happy to announce that HR-1171—the amendment that would (as an unfortunate side-effect) legalize the assassination of abortion providers—is, according to the rationale its sponsor has offered in its support, superfluous and unnecessary. Here’s why:

The South Dakota amendment reads thusly (the key parts are in bold):

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to expand the definition of justifiable homicide to provide for the protection of certain unborn children.


Section 1. That § 22-16-34 be amended to read as follows:

22-16-34. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

Section 2. That § 22-16-35 be amended to read as follows:

22-16-35. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, or the unborn child of any such enumerated person, if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.

You might think this amendment had something to do with abortion. Luckily, you are wrong! It has nothing whatsoever to do with abortion, as Phil Jensen, the bill’s sponsor, explains. And that’s not all! Rep. Jensen has proposed to change the language of the bill to forestall the (legal) murdering of doctors and other abortion providers—an outcome he deems “shocking” and undesirable although, he notes, “crazies” will be crazy. This has nothing to do with abortion, he insists, and proposes the following edit so that there are no misunderstandings and you cannot kill an abortion provider because abortion is legal (suspenseful music). I repeat: this bill has nothing to do with abortion. See how the part in bold fixes everything?

Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree that is unlawful and likely to result in the death of the unborn child, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

Here’s how Jensen explains the concerns undergirding the original amendment (and that concern is NOT abortion, in case you were wondering):

When I asked Jensen what the purpose of the law was, if its target isn’t abortion providers, he provided the following example:

“Say an ex-boyfriend who happens to be father of a baby doesn’t want to pay child support for the next 18 years, and he beats on his ex-girfriend’s abdomen in trying to abort her baby. If she did kill him, it would be justified. She is resisting an effort to murder her unborn child.”

Now, it would seem the good Rep. has forgotten either basic anatomy or the transitive property, which combined yield the following self-evident truths:

1) The ex-girlfriend’s abdomen in the above example belongs to her.

2) As a direct consequence of 1), an attack on her abdomen is attack on her person, meaning that she’s already protected under current law:

20-9-8.   Right to use force in defense of persons or property. Any necessary force may be used to protect from wrongful injury the person or property of one’s self, or of a wife, husband, child, parent, or other relative, or member of one’s family, or of a ward, servant, master, or guest.

“Any necessary force” includes homicide.

Therefore, the hypothetical ex-girlfriend killing the ex-boyfriend in self-defense has the law on her side. Unless he’s insisting that the hypothetical ex-girlfriend’s intention, in killing her ex-boyfriend, is to protect only the fetus and not herself (a subtle distinction to some, less so for others), his friends may want to bring that law to Congressman Jensen’s attention so that he can rest easy at night, safe in the knowledge that the abdomens of women have recourse, should they be subjected to battery.

He will undoubtedly retire the bill as a result.



ETA: Ha! The Well-Timed Period has pretty much written this very post, and more thoroughly, too; they point out that 22-16-34 and 22-16-35 both pertain even more directly to the hypothetical ex-girlfriend’s actions “justifiable homicide”. Here–thanks to them—is the updated version of the bill. The new language stipulates that the defense can only be applied to the pregnant woman:

“Section 2. The affirmative defense provided in section 1 of this Act does not apply to:

(1) Acts committed by anyone other than the pregnant woman;

(2) Acts where the pregnant woman would be obligated to retreat, to surrender the possession of a thing, or to comply with a demand before using force in self-defense. However, the pregnant woman is not obligated to retreat before using force or deadly force to protect her unborn child, unless she knows that she can thereby secure the complete safety of her unborn child; or

(3) The defense of human embryos existing outside of a woman’s body.”

I’d be curious to know what legal experts think of the section I put in bold. It looks to me like the language there, while purporting not to obligate a pregnant woman, is actually creating a situation where she could be prosecuted for NOT retreating/complying when a retreat/compliance could have saved her unborn child.

ETA 2: Bill has been tabled, by a vote of 61 to 4. When a disaster has been averted, it’s appropriate to cheer. Hurrah! And I salute Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones, whose story brought national attention to this underhanded piece of … legislation.

Dear Sarah Palin: Refudiate the Mama Grizzly, For She is Pro-Choice.

I was thinking about this “mama grizzly” model of womanhood and decided to do a little research, since this, according to Ms. Palin, is the way of America’s future. It turns out the Mama Grizzly’s maternal excellence—the reason Sarah Palin chose her as her symbol—is a direct function of her ability to become a mother when circumstances are precisely right, and not before. In a nutshell, Mama Grizzlies abort.

What I found: Not only do female grizzlies like to play the field—with multiple partners, and repeated encounters that last up to an hour—they also terminate the pregnancy if the timing is poor.  A female grizzly won’t carry a fetus to term unless she is in “peak condition” and has the wherewithal to support her offspring. As is the case with other bears, “if the mother has not accumulated enough fat to sustain herself as well as developing cubs,” the fertilized embryo will be reabsorbed into the not-going-to-be-a-mother-yet’s body.

From Mountainnature:

After mating, the female may be pregnant, but that does not mean she will give birth to cubs. There is an old joke that you can’t be half pregnant, but bears have proven this statement to be false. Bears, weasels and some seals have developed a process called delayed implantation. The fertilized egg develops into a small embryo called a blastocyst. This is where the interesting stuff begins. After this brief period of development, of the fertilized egg suddenly stops growing and simply floats freely in the uterus for several months.

If a sow is in peak condition when she heads into her winter den, the embryo implants in the uterus and begin to develop. She’ll wake up during January or February to give birth. …

If the sow is not in peak condition at the onset of hibernation, her body will reabsorb the embryo and not give birth that year. This gives bears more control over their reproductive rate than just about any other animal.

Humans included.

Keep your paws off my uterus and no one gets hurt.


To Angie: A Thank-You Note

Dear Carla Fran,

I want to write today about Angie, the woman who had a chemical abortion after her IUD failed and has been documenting the experience via Twitter and Youtube. Her account of why she’s getting an abortion is here. Her circumstances—she has a special-needs son, pregnancy puts her health at risk, she doesn’t want another child—aren’t what motivated her to make the abortion public. She gives her reasons in the first of many Youtube videos she’s made on the subject, here. To badly summarize her position, she’s trying to destigmatize and render transparent a process that remains shrouded in spin and fear.

Since announcing her decision on her own website and on the Friendly Atheist, she’s been dealing with the expected Internet craze. I want to take a minute to applaud the physical courage it took to put herself at the center of a controversy that’s provoked real-world violence, and to do so at a physically demanding time. People say she knew what she was getting into. True—but the fact that civil rights champions know the resistance they’ll face doesn’t make them any less brave for facing it.

The Friendly Atheist post provided a format for the usual debates to take place, but I was surprised by the (mostly) respectful tone in the commenting thread. Things took a turn later on; in any case, I’m reposting my comment on that thread here, as an open letter:

Hi Angie,

Thanks for doing this. Word on the slippery slope argument getting out of hand.

Two quick remarks to the louder commenters here: Folks, rape isn’t the point. Let’s stop arguing statistics. The point is that you, a person, have the right to decide whether or not to go through a life-altering procedure (whether that procedure is pregnancy or abortion is your call).

To the responsibility advocates: you’re disproportionately interested in enforcing your stated principle in situations where women bear all the physical consequences. (As a local instance of this, count how many on this thread are asking why she didn’t get a tubal ligation; compare that to how many asked why her partner didn’t have a vasectomy—a cheaper and far less risky procedure).

Sure, actions have consequences. And yet, if you’re a smoker and discover a tumor (a cluster of cells that will develop and grow unless interfered with), no one will cite your “irresponsible behavior” as a reason for refusing you the right to have that tumor removed.

Angie, thanks for making this process public. Philosophical issues aside, it’s hard for women thinking about it to find out what a chemical abortion is actually like. That––to my mind––is what’s most important about this piece. Anyone thinking about a chemical abortion is drowning is misinformation and spin, so to have an account of what physically happens is crucially important. It is emphatically, absolutely not “TMI”.

So, Angie, to add another voice to the majority on this thread, most of whom think human beings deserve to exert reasonable agency over their bodies regardless of their gender: thanks.


Why Don’t Fetuses Get Free Health Care?

It’s a curious feature of the Republican approach to reproduction that the fetus has the right to life but not to medical care*. The life belongs to the fetus, so the money required to bring that fetus to term—including the cost of the birth—should be calculated not as part of the “expense” of being a woman in the health care system but rather as a Fetal Birthday Gift From America.

Women are more costly, the prevailing Republican wisdom goes, because of their child-bearing years. Pete Sessions will be greatly relieved to learn that this has all been a mistake over in in Accounting. The cost of an entire pregnancy (and any in vitro treatments that led to the conception) redounds on the fetus’ unborn head.  Luckily insurance rates will be low—no preexisting conditions as it is not yet technically a smoker, an adolescent male driver or a woman. America’s gift will be both moral and cost-effective.

Back in the day, England introduced the idea of a “window tax” which amounted to a tax that was (it was felt) roughly proportionate to income. Wikipedia informs me that “it was designed to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer, but without the controversy that then surrounded the idea of income tax.”

Replace “income tax” with “abortion” and “window tax” with “health care reform” and you’ll get a window into the way reproduction gets mentioned and evaded during the depressing dance that is US health care reform. Uteruses are the new windows. It’s the having them that matters, and it’s a luxury for which women have to pay.

Republicans: Being a Woman is a Preexisting Condition. Pregnancies Cost Money. So Does Birth Control. No You Cannot Abort.

First, thanks to the Stupak Amendment (which has led apolitical me to write not only my representatives but those in Georgia as well), insurers are to be instructed that the plans the vast majority of the population will be using Shall Not include abortion. Abortion is already seldom taught in medical schools—a change from the time my own father received his training.  Now there will be a stranglehold on market demand. Abortion will become a subspecialty, an “elective procedure” that has, in many discussions raging on this issue, been lumped in with breast augmentations. (That is a subject for another time.) It seems a foolish comparison until one realizes that as abortion becomes more and more divorced from the standard repertoire of obstetrics and gynecology, it may be priced accordingly.

It’s popular to talk about Republican stupidity, but I want to take a moment to applaud the tacticians behind this move. It was nothing short of brilliant for the Republicans, coming from a position of numerical weakness, to pen the Democratic party so that they squabble over whether to sacrifice one major issue in order to achieve nominal victory in another.

They are, however, in need of some additional help which I am in a position to provide.

I learned, courtesy of Politico and Courthouse News, that Pete Sessions believes women to be in the same class as smokers, and that both groups should pay more (or nothing) accordingly:

In promoting the House health bill, New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone made reference to discrimination by insurance companies, citing their reluctance to insure people with preexisting conditions and differences in costs based on gender. “But that’s not against the law,” Texas Republican Pete Sessions said.

Pallone replied, “No, but we would make it against the law. Why do you have a problem with that?” he asked. “Why should a woman pay more than a man?”

“Well, we’re all different,” Sessions explained. “Why should a smoker pay more,” he said before getting interrupted by a burst of chatter throughout the room.

Why indeed? It’s an interesting parallel: smokers weigh the system down by jeopardizing their own health through the voluntary ingestion of known carcinogens. Women weigh down the system by having the potential to reproduce. Being a woman is a preexisting condition. Like having diabetes. In fact, being a woman is functionally identical to a disease.

(How smokers should be treated by our health-care system is an important subject for another time; what interests me here is the rhetorical move of equating the two.)

“Oh please,” a commenter on Glenn Thrush’s post on this in Politico writes, “young men have to pay more for car insurance than young women, it’s the way the world works…no need to cry about it.”

In this argument (which crops up more than you might expect) the logic goes thusly: women are statistically more expensive than men, just as young male drivers are statistically more expensive than female drivers. Therefore it is perfectly reasonable for women to pay more for basic medical care. Q.E.D.

I nod. This makes excellent sense. But there’s a tickle somewhere around my left uterine syllogism-maker that suggests that something important is being missed. Ah! I have it. It is this: I don’t necessarily have to drive.

Yes, that’s it. I can opt out of the unequal pricing of car insurance by not owning a car.  The higher cost of which exists, incidentally, because of patterns of irresponsible behavior, not irresponsible uterus ownership. My uterus is harder to opt out of, as it was not of my choosing. It is (at least in principle) a harder thing to reject.

My fallopian fallacy-feeler tells me something else about this is not 100% absolutely accurate. Here it is. Health insurance is arguably more important than car insurance in that the latter deals mainly with what happens to a chunk of metal in case of an accident, whereas the former addresses whether you will live or whether you will die.

In both cases, though, the analogies correlate irresponsible behaviors with actually being a particular sex.

My cervix has some questions as it contemplates possible methods of payment:

Does infertility earn you a tax break?

(Oh good! But wait—might taxing women for their reproductive function not be the best way to solve the problem of the declining birth rate in the US?)

(Never mind—someone will support us when we get old and Social Security is bankrupt.)

All this is luckily only a problem for pro-choice people. The pro-life champions can sleep easy. Stupak will take Sessions gently by the hand tonight and explain to him that while he agrees In Principle that women are just like smokers (and like bad teenage drivers too), fetuses have done nothing wrong and deserve to have the cost of their arrival fall squarely on the nation’s shoulders. It’s an unfortunate side effect that the smoker-driver carrying the fetus will receive care too, but that is one of those biological injustices to which we need pay no mind.

God Bless America. May we all someday be rich enough to have luxury windows and convertible uteruses of our very own.

*This is in some ways the opposite of the fungibility argument, which Aimai addresses nicely here.