Of Guns and Fetuses

February 28, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my expectation that social conservatives would make a renewed push this year to try to enact legislation to achieve longstanding goals, such as significant restrictions on abortion and reproductive rights in general.  This is one case where I wish I had been wrong in my predictions.  Unfortunately, I appear to have been all too accurate. 

Presumably, most everyone is aware of the pending federal legislation that directly or indirectly would deny insurance coverage to women for abortion procedures. And, of course, the House recently enacted a measure that would defund Planned Parenthood’s contraceptive and cancer-screening services. The measure was a punitive one, not based on any inefficiency in delivery of services, but rather Planned Parenthood’s support for legal abortions.

But the action is not only at the federal level. For example, Virginia has just adopted legislation that would subject abortion clinics to regulations applicable to hospitals, including detailed specifications about the width of hallways. Specifically, the hallways must be made wide enough to handle two gurneys side-by-side, even though most clinics have only one rarely used gurney on site.  Other regulations could require clinics to change the size of their rooms, redo landscaping, and have on-site food facilities.  None of these changes are medically necessary for the services to be delivered.  However, they may require each clinic to spend over a million dollars in remodeling—money which they don’t have.

The transparent motive behind these new regulations is to shutter as many abortion clinics as possible. Similar measures in Texas and South Carolina caused the number of abortion providers to drop from twenty to four and from fourteen to three respectively.

Those who want to force women to carry a fetus know they cannot constitutionally impose such a requirement, so they try their cleverest strategies to achieve a substantially equivalent situation in which there are few, if any, providers for safe, legal abortions. Oh, sure, a woman can obtain an abortion, provided she has the means to take a 500-mile trip to obtain one.

Retaking control of women’s reproduction has been the fantasy of the Religious Right for years—even before Roe v.Wade . Social conservatives were horrified by the 1972 Eisenstadt decision which ruled that the State could not ban the sale of contraceptives to unmarried individuals. With the influx of Tea Party adherents both in Congress and state legislatures, the decades-old dream of turning back the clock has never seemed so close to realization.

Having referenced the Tea Party, I know I am likely to receive some comments criticizing me for lumping together Tea Partiers with social conservatives. Again, as I said a couple of weeks ago, I recognize there is a libertarian element within the Tea Party that focuses primarily on economic issues. But more and more surveys indicate social conservatives dominate in the Tea Party. A recent Pew Forum survey found that not only were most Tea Party members social conservatives, but they looked to religion for guidance on key social issues such as abortion.

However, it may be unfair to describe social conservatives and their Tea Party allies as “anti-choice,” because they are not anti-choice in all things. Sure, a woman should not be able to determine whether to bear a child or not, but she should be perfectly free to buy an automatic weapon anytime she has the urge to do so. The Pew Forum survey I just referenced found out that Tea Party members overwhelmingly—by 78% to 18%—are more concerned with protecting the right to have a firearm than in controlling gun ownership.

I recommend they try to connect these two important goals in the minds of the voting public. May I suggest a poster with a fetus holding a Glock 9mm (with an extended magazine, of course)? Perhaps the Religious Right should push for federal subsidies to all women who carry their fetuses to term: they and their children will receive discounts at a firearms dealer near them.

Guns and fetuses have been the perennial obsessions of social conservatives. Unfortunately, it appears these skewed priorities will be driving our political discourse and shaping our legislation for some time.