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GOP Still Mocking the "Health of the Mother"

October 25, 2012

If for nothing else, you have to give the 2008 and 2012 GOP tickets for getting their lines straight. On Thursday, John McCain rejoined Mitt Romney in support of embattled Indiana Republican Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock. That McCain would come around after accepting Mourdock's "apology" for proclaiming rape-induced pregnancies gifts from God should come as no surprise. After all, McCain like Romney is a former supporter of Roe v. Wade who turned anti-abortion champion in order to secure the Republican nomination. And as it turns out, McCain mocked the very idea of a "health of the mother" exception to the abortion ban his party demands. That's just like Paul Ryan, who dismissed it as "a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through."
As this handy chart shows, in their perpetual quest to erase women's reproductive rights, Mourdock, Todd Akin and others among the GOP's best and not-so-brightest have been trying to "shut down" rape as a legitimate basis for abortion. But during an October 2008 debate with then Senator Barack Obama, John McCain used "air quotes" to dismiss "an exception for the mother's health and life" altogether:

"Just again, the example of the eloquence of Sen. Obama. He's [for] health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, 'health.'"

As it turns out, McCain was just echoing the position of Mitt Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
Ryan's jaw-dropping disregard for the health and safety of American women came during the 2000 debate over the so-called "partial birth abortion" bill. As NPR explained, the very rare intact dilation and extraction (used only 2,200 times out of 1.3 million procedures performed in 2000) was resorted to precisely to protect the health of the woman in certain late-term pregnancies. The alternative, NPR noted, "can involve substantial blood loss and may increase the risk of lacerating the cervix, potentially undermining the woman's ability to bear children in the future."

Mitt Romney's new running mate was having none of it. During House debate on April 5, 2000, Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin told the House that "the women I have spoken to wanted nothing more than to have a child and were devastated to learn that their babies could not survive outside the womb. They made difficult decisions with their doctors and families to terminate pregnancies, to preserve their own health and in many cases their ability to try to have a child again." Afterwards, Paul Ryan rose to denounce that position:

Mr. Speaker. I just have to take issue with the comments that have been preceding this debate. This is not a political issue. This is a human issue. Let me just say this to all of my colleagues who are about to vote on this issue, on the motion to recommit. The health exception is a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it. The health exception would render this ban virtually meaningless.

Ryan's 2000 gambit failed. But in 2003, President Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act into law. And by 2007, the United States Supreme Court adopted Ryan's attack on "abortionists" and the health and safety of American women.
Ending the "health of the mother" exception isn't just in keeping with Paul Ryan's personal record. It also happens to be enshrined in the 2012 Republican Platform, which with its call for a so-called "Human Life Amendment" would necessarily eliminate all abortions in all cases. For his part, Governor Romney, who has endorsed bogus "fetal pain: legislation, state "personhood" initiatives and defunding the entire federal Title X women's health program, has said that his disagrees with the GOP platform on that point.
Or at least, he does now.

During his first run for the White House, Romney explained to the late Tim Russert that his previous "unwavering" pro-choice position (one inspired by the death of a "dear, close family relative" from an illegal abortion 50 years ago) had been merely "theoretical"--and was now inoperative:

RUSSERT: You--will not see you wavering on that issue. You now have said you support the 2004 Republican Party platform, which says this: "We say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We" suggest "a human life amendment to the Constitution." Such amendment would ban abortions all across the country. Why such a dramatic and profound change after pledging never to waiver on a woman's right to choose?
ROMNEY: Well, you know, Tim, I was always personally opposed to abortion, as I think almost everyone in this nation is. And the question for me was, what is the role of government? And it was quite theoretical and, and philosophical to consider what the role of government should be in this regard, and I felt that the Supreme Court had spoken and that government shouldn't be involved and let people make their own decision. And that all made a lot of sense to me. And then I became governor and the theoretical became reality, if you will.

Theoretical, that is, in the same way that Mitt Romney and the GOP believe the "health of the mother" is merely theoretical. And if Romney becomes President of the United States, he and his Republican party are committed to finding ways to shut that whole thing down.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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