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GOP Talking Points Don't Apply to Women's Health

March 19, 2012

For a brief moment on Sunday, John McCain made sense. Lamenting the growing backlash against the GOP's crusade to turn back the clock on contraception and reproductive rights, McCain told Meet the Press, "I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives and make that clear."
If that seems like a shocking statement coming from John McCain, that's because it is. McCain, after all, ran for President in 2008 on a Republican Party platform which touted a "human life amendment" barring the "choice" of abortion in all cases, including rape and incest. And it was John McCain, the one-time supporter of Roe v. Wade, who used a nationally televised presidential debate four years ago to mock the very idea of the "health of mother."
Of course, when it comes to women's bodies, the GOP isn't just perverting the meaning of words like "choice" and "health." In their perpetual quest to limit reproductive rights, Republicans conveniently forget their favorite talking points about "the doctor-patient relationship", "junk science", "jackpot justice" and so much more.

(Click a link above to jump to the details for each.)
"Concealed Carry"
Thanks to the National Rifle Association and its Republican allies, states across the country are passing "concealed carry" laws allowing residents to surreptitiously pack heat in churches, parks, colleges and other public venues. But in places like Oregon, advocates have mobilized to prevent the state from publishing the list of gun owners. As one GOP state senator put it, "It's nobody's business."
But if you're carrying a fetus instead of gun, more and more Republicans insist, it's everybody's business.
In Tennessee, GOP lawmakers are trying to invite scrutiny - and intimidation - for women and their doctors with the Life Defense Act. Among other things, House Bill 3808 would "require the Department of Health to release more information on abortions, including the name of the doctor who performed the procedure and demographics about the women who receive them." (Similar laws in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Texas are currently facing court challenges.) As sponsor Rep. Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, put it:

"The Department of Health already collects all of the data, but they don't publish it. All we're asking is that the data they already collect be made public."

While GOP lawmakers are only too happy to violate the privacy of American women and their physicians, they draw the line at another group: terrorism suspects. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft refused "to allow the FBI to run its database on gun purchase requests against a list of terrorism suspects to determine whether any of them had tried to buy firearms."
"The Doctor-Patient Relationship"
For two decades, Republican opponents of health care reform have turned to a tried if untrue talking point: protecting the doctor-patient relationship. In 1994, GOP strategist Bill Kristol warned that "the Clinton Plan is damaging to the quality of American medicine and to the relationship between the patient and the doctor." Twelve years later, President George W. Bush proclaimed, "Ours is a party that understands the best health care system is when the doctor-patient relationship is central to decision-making." Then in 2009, GOP spinmeister Frank Luntz told Republican obstructionists in Congress to "call for the 'protection of the personalized doctor-patient relationship.'"
Now with their ever-more aggressive nationwide crusade against Americans' reproductive rights, Republicans are determined to undermine the very doctor-patient relationship they pretend to cherish. Across the country, GOP anti-choice leaders are requiring procedures women don't need and their physicians don't want.
Texas, Virginia and Alabama are just some of the red states are demanding that women seeking abortions undergo and pay for medically unnecessary ultra-sound tests their physicians oppose. Even leaving aside the "forced rape" bills considered in Virginia and Alabama, Republican legislators are dictating the terms of the doctor-patient relationship with the ultra-sound laws. Recently, a Federal Appeals Court upheld Rick Perry's new statute in Texas requiring abortion providers "to show or describe an ultrasound image to a woman of her pregnancy and to play sounds of the fetal heart." As Reuters explained:

While a woman seeking an abortion can decline to view the legally required ultrasound, she cannot decline to hear the physician's description of it unless she qualifies for an exception due to rape, incest or fetal abnormality.
A coalition of medical providers sued in June to block the law, arguing that it made doctors a "mouthpiece" for the state's ideological message. The First Amendment includes protections against compelled speech.
The challengers, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, also argued that disclosure of the sonogram and fetal heartbeat was not "medically necessary" and therefore beyond the state's power to regulate the practice of medicine.

And in states like Virginia and Mississippi, the Republican intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship extends beyond mandating what unneeded and costly procedures must be performed, by where as well. Since in 2006, all Magnolia State facilities performing second and third trimester abortions must meet the same regulatory standards as full surgical hospitals, 36 pages of rules in all. As a result, the entire state of Mississippi, one of the poorest in the nation, now has only a single abortion clinic, the Jacksonboro Women's Health Clinic.
"Tort Reform" and "Jackpot Justice"
"Tort reform" has been at the top of the Republican agenda for years. Not because so-called "frivolous lawsuits" and "jackpot justice" are fueling the increase in the cost of health care, pushing up malpractice premiums or driving doctors from practice. Instead, the GOP wants to target trial attorneys and their cash flow, some of which is directed to Democratic candidates.
But when it comes to abortion, Republicans are all for doctors committing malpractice. And now in states like Arizona and Kansas, Republicans seeking to prevent abortion services are demanding doctors lie about them.
Earlier this month, the Arizona Senate voted 29 to 9 for a "wrongful birth bill" that would shield physicians from malpractice claims if they withhold vital information from their patients. As the AP explained:

Those are lawsuits that can arise if physicians don't inform pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead to the decision to have an abortion.

(Two weeks ago, an Oregon couple won a $3 million judgment in a case where the hospital's negligence, and not the doctor's silence, led to birth of a Down's syndrome the mother would not otherwise have carried to term. As The Oregonian noted, "The judge prohibited media in the courtroom from photographing or recording images of the couple, whose attorney said had received death threats.")
But if Arizona Republicans want their state to join 9 others in encouraging that sin of omission, in Kansas anti-choice GOP legislators want doctors to participate in a sin of commission. More on that below.
"Junk Science" and "Uncertainty"
For decades, Republican leaders and their conservative echo chamber have been quick to decry "junk science" and "uncertainty" to oppose action against acid rain, legislation to counter global warming or even the teaching of evolution. In the 1990's, Newt Gingrich led the successful GOP crusade to dismantle the Office of Technology Assessment, an agency one Democrat referred to as a "defense against the dumb." (For more background, see Chris Mooney's excellent book, The Republican War on Science.)
But when it comes to women's health, the allies of Jim Inhofe and Rick Santorum want to make "junk science" the law.
In Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback and the GOP don't merely want to raise taxes on women seeking abortions, even in cases involving sexual assault or a life-threatening pregnancy. Now, Republican legislators there and in New Hampshire want state law to require that physicians mislead to their patients about the non-existent link between abortion and breast cancer:

Kansas state lawmakers heard testimony this week saying there is a link between abortion and breast cancer. The testimony in front of the committee on Federal and state affairs came from Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, an oncologist specializing in breast cancer. The committee did not hear any other testimony before drafting H.B. 2598.

That link has been firmly rejected by organizations including the American Cancer Association and the National Cancer Institute, which concluded that "abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer." (Nonetheless, the Bush administration repeatedly claimed otherwise on federal government web sites aimed at teenagers and pregnant women. As a 2006 Congressional investigation found, 20 of 23 federally-funded "pregnancy resource centers," facilities often affiliated with antiabortion religious groups, incorrectly told women "that abortion results in an increased risk of breast cancer, infertility and deep psychological trauma."
And when it comes to that supposed "deep psychological trauma," the conservative Supreme Court of the United States has made junk science - and condescension - the law of the land. In 2007, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy issued his shocking opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart. Kennedy put the mythical "post abortion syndrome" as the heart of his reasoning in upholding the federal ban on what Republicans deemed "partial birth abortion." As Ruth Marcus lamented, Kennedy basically decided that doctors had no right to perform the rare but medically necessary procedure because, in essence, women might get the vapors:

"Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child," Kennedy intoned. This is one of those sentences about women's essential natures that are invariably followed by an explanation of why the right at stake needs to be limited. For the woman's own good, of course.
Kennedy continues: "While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained." No reliable data? No problem!

In the five years since, a mountain of studies (including a new analysis in the Journal of Psychiatric Research earlier this month) has debunked Kennedy's dangerous pseudo-science about abortion and mental health. Sadly, that these conservatives' claims aren't true has been no barrier to continuing to repeat them.
Of course, in the all-out Republican war to end abortion and restrict reproductive rights, the truth is that the health of American women has never been very important. Republican presidential nominee John McCain, the same man who on Sunday clearly if briefly spoke of respecting women's choices, put it in "air quotes" during the 2008 campaign:

"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.'"


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

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