Even now, I can’t quite believe I’m writing this. I’m having one of those ‘how to lose friends and alienate people’ moments, but I’m gambling on the innate generousity and goodness of humankind.
When I first heard of Texas senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster I didn’t know enough about the situation or the bill in question to reach any conclusions. I’m against filibusters in general because I consider them a waste of time and money (and a general subversion of the democratic process), but I understand that our political system is not everything that could be desired. Yet after doing some of my own research, I’m a little confused both by Davis (or #standwithWendy), and the uproar in general. I realize this is one of those subjects where all involved simply stick their fingers in their ears and starts screaming, but if we really want to be responsible for our own politics, choices, bodies, etc, why not act with the necessary maturity?
The Texas bill in question (the full text can be found here) makes four major changes to current regulations in Texas:
I’m going to do some cursory analysis point-by-point, and then you can decide for yourself whether the bill constitutes a “war-on-women,” a safer alternative to current Texan legislation, or simply a chance for people like Davis and governor Rick Perry to each score some political capital.
1. Previously in Texas, elective abortions were allowed within 26 weeks of conception, now it’s down to 20. This is based upon “disputed research” (everything on this topic is disputed) that a fetus can feel and respond to pain at 20 weeks, and therefore the state has a “compelling” ethical interest to intervene. Twenty weeks is considered restrictive by North American standards, but it’s actually remarkably generous compared to most European countries. Elective abortion is only legal in France and Switzerland in the first trimester, in Germany it’s only legal in the first two months, and in Sweden until the end of week 18. Finland matches Texas at 20 weeks, and the Netherlands allows 24, while Denmark is even more “restrictive” at 12. While we in Canada may feel outraged at any restriction, our lack of legislation is actually a shocking anomaly. Most other developed nations understand the need to have regulation in this area, while we are perfectly happy to lag behind.
I’m not going to pretend I know enough to argue whether 20 weeks is biologically superior to 26 weeks or 24 weeks or any other number. I would just propose that, ultimately, most people are aware of a pregnancy within 4 to 5 weeks of conception thanks to certain biological indicators, and therefore (even in Texas) still have at least extra three months to make a decision about the fate of that pregnancy.
2. Admitting privileges to a hospital require annual renewal by the applying doctor, and allow doctors to quickly and efficiently refer patients to hospital in the case of complications. On one hand they provide another level of safety to the patient in that they have better emergency options, as well as assuring them that the doctor in question is considered competent by the local medical community (bad doctors have a more difficult time maintaining admitting privileges). On the other hand, certain factions predict that doctors known to be performing abortions will be discriminated against in their application process. Once again, I’m not going to argue things I can’t prove or disprove, as I don’t know what kind of discrimination the medical community can or will bring to bear .
3. Obviously, in order to satisfy the 20 week restriction in the first point, a doctor needs to examine the patient before RU-486 can be administered. Requiring the doctor in question to administer the drug personally requires him or her to take responsibility for the procedure and allows him or her to deal effectively with any complications. It does require more time per case than earlier forms of the procedure, but it does seem to be an appropriate addition to existing regulation.
4. This addition has been explained as a direct response to Kermit Gosnell, whose ‘abortion clinic’ was a case study in malpractice. Certification as an “ambulatory surgical centre” will bring the majority of Texan abortion clinics in line with private medical and surgical clinics across the state. The discussion of whether abortion is a ‘procedure’ or a ‘surgery’ is still raging, but, as Gosnell taught us, strict standardization is deeply important in this industry.
The critics of the bill have seized upon the reality that only five out of 42 clinics in Texas currently are ASC certified, and the rest will have difficulty financing the required upgrades. This is an important point, but I fail to follow it to the doomsday conclusion that Texas is trying to regulate abortion clinics out of business, and that thousands of women seeking abortions in rural Texas will have to drive hundreds of miles to Dallas or Houston after their local clinic closes. First of all, the bill doesn’t require a clinic to be certified until September 1, 2014, which gives more than a year for existing clinics to figure out their options. Secondly, I doubt it will be difficult for many clinics to find financial support both within and outside Texas (special interest groups, donors, perhaps even government grants). If this is an evil Republican plan to destroy abortion clinics in Texas then it’s a remarkably stupid one, since the clinics will most likely emerge safer, more efficient, and more legitimate then before.
But that’s not what makes the news. Instead we get fed articles about whether Davis is going to challenge Perry for governor next year, or about security having to confiscate jars of feces and urine from protestors entering the Senate gallery. Seriously.
This is not to say that conversation in the Senate did not morph into a pro-life / pro-choice debate, or that the senators themselves lack any ulterior motives. The fear manifested by some groups that their hard-won choice options will be legislated out of existence is a valid one, considering that the larger debate does (and should) continue. I’m all for political action and discourse, I just am unhappy that many people are content to paint this Texas controversy as black and white and let their emotions run wild. Whatever side you happen to be on, there is value in this bill, and it deserves to be evaluated on it own merits rather than the motivations of Republican Texan senators.
That said, let me know if I’m missing some critical piece of the puzzle which does ‘change the game.” Maybe Davis had a valid reason to spend 11 hours lecturing the Senate, maybe Perry is actually a political genius pulling off a brilliant coup. I like being informed, and I like to keep my opinions flexible, and I would encourage you to do the same.