This week in repro-rights rhetoric

Mississippi in a "muddle," Oklahoma struck by twister of facts.

By Lynn Harris

Published April 2, 2008 9:54AM (EDT)

-- "Give women as much information as possible"

-- "Protect the integrity of medical professionals"

-- "Affirm health workers' right"

-- "Informing mothers of [their] rights"

Sounds like stuff you could probably get behind, right?

Gotcha. Those phrases are actually taken from an impressively biased "Capitol Brief" in the Oklahoman about state Senate Bill 1878 -- the "Freedom of Conscience Act" -- which may go to a vote this week, and which is not a good thing. Versions of this bill have reportedly been copycatted in legislatures around the country.

Here's what I left out:

-- "The House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee passed Senate Bill 1878. Rep. Pam Peterson, the House author, said the legislation would give women as much trouble information as possible before having an abortion."

-- "It also would protect the integrity of medical professionals who do not wish to perform abortions" by "affirm[ing] health workers' right to refuse to perform abortions." More broadly, actually, it says that employees of healthcare facilities may choose not to participate in an activity they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds; it provides them with immunity for any consequences of their (in)actions.

-- "It would require that posters be placed in clinics informing mothers of [their] rights [not to be coerced into an abortion] and requiring clinics to verbally tell minors that having an abortion is their decision alone." That one's in the playbook under Basic Scare Tactics.

The bill also requires a preabortion ultrasound ("They don't have to look," say supporters) and, says the Oklahoman, bans "wrongful-life" lawsuits "claiming a baby would have been better off being aborted." Plus, it regulates the use of RU-486, which at least this article didn't refer to as "the morning-after pill."

Nice job cutting and pasting the antiabortion press release, Oklahoman!

This kind of spin from antiabortion advocates is by no means unique these days, of course. But all that language about "rights" and "workers" -- and "women," even -- does make me think. Glass half-empty: Hey, quit appropriating lefty language and pretending to care about women! Glass half-full (quarter-full?): Hmm. They have to use "our" terms, because they know they sell. Just a thought, or two.

In other news from the Trenchant Political Discourse wire:

-- A bill that beefs up the penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman was recently greenlighted by an Oklahoma Senate subcommittee. Can't argue with every letter of the law (that's a post unto itself); can squirm at its infelicitous name, which I presume was bestowed by Mr. McGillicuddy's sixth-grade class on their field trip to the State Capitol: "The Scum of the Earth Bill." Yep.

-- Meanwhile, over in Mississippi, where they couldn't make abortion care harder to get if they tried ... well, they keep trying. And this one's just embarrassing. "Muddle of a Bill OK'd in House," reports the Clarion-Ledger. "Mississippi House members on Thursday signed off on a bill most indicated they didn't fully understand that could further discourage abortions and possibly put the state in conflict with federal privacy laws." (Emphasis added by exasperated blogger.)

Basically, the original House bill was about child abuse. The Senate made eight pages of changes, adding (among other things) that a) fetal tissue be preserved from abortions performed on girls younger than 14 to enable paternity testing, and b) a parent or guardian can sue anyone who helps a teen get an abortion without parental consent. (You know, like the mentors whom certain teens seek out in order to avoid punitive litigious parents.)

Sounds clear enough, for better or for worse, but here's the muddle recap. "Many House members indicated ... they had not had a chance to review the amended bill. Even the lawmakers who urged support said they had not read the amendment ... Some lawmakers worried [that the bill] may violate federal privacy laws that protect patients and could criminalize people who counsel girls considering abortion ... Confusion reigned before the House eventually approved the bill on a 79-41 vote," according to the Clarion-Ledger's account.

"Lawmakers first debated whether to send it to negotiations between House and Senate leaders, but that motion failed. 'I'd like to see a show of hands of who knows exactly what the Senate has done with this bill,' said state Rep. Bennett Malone, D-Carthage. No more than a half dozen members of the 122-member chamber raised their hands.

"'I am opposed to abortion and will continue to vote that way, but I don't know what I'm voting for and neither do most of you,' House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said as he urged negotiations.

"'We've got the strongest pro-life laws in the country right here, and if you want to make them stronger, then don't invite (negotiations),' said state Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo."

Atta boy!

Some negotiation, or even a slow legislative death, apparently remains possible. But otherwise, the muddle is headed to Gov. Haley Barbour's desk.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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