Abortion, the GOP, and the pleasures of the womb

     Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, was sworn into the 113th Congress in January 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, was sworn into the 113th Congress in January 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    Please make them stop.

    Yet again, a member of the House Republicans’ loony wing has taken it upon himself to school us in the particulars of female biology. Last year, Todd Akin said that the gals have the gift for identifying rapist sperm and thus preventing pregnancy; last week, Trent Franks said that the “incidence” of rape resulting in pregnancy is “very low” (which is surely no consolation to the estimated 83,000 American women impregnated via rape each year); and, this week, we’ve had a very creative contribution from Texan Michael Burgess.

    He said that we should bar abortions as early as 15 weeks, because at that point in pregnancy…how shall I daintily phrase this…the male fetuses are masturbating.

    Wow, did you know that the womb was a sexual pleasure zone? I didn’t know that, either! Here’s what Burgess said on Monday evening, in the early moments of a House debate on a Republican bill that would ban virtually all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy:

    “Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful. They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”


    Junk Science

    By suggesting that teensy male fetuses spank the monkey, Burgess was apparently trying to make a case for the pain canard. The House GOP’s anti-abortion bill – the most restrictive measure in a decade; it passed the chamber last night – aims to bar the practice at 20 weeks because fetuses at that age supposedly feel pain. Hence the bill’s catchy title, the Pain-Capable Infant Protection Act.

    What a crock.

    The overwhelmingly male House Republicans are free to believe junk science if they so choose, but the American mainstream would probably prefer to believe the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – all of which, after studing the real science, have stated that there’s no such thing as fetal pain at 20 weeks or earlier. As the American College concluded last year, “fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins in week 25. The group said this is “the dominant view of the medical profession.”

    As for Burgess’ claim that 15-week male fetuses are pleasuring themselves, well, that would be quite a feat, considering the biological facts: (a) the length of fetuses at that stage is roughly four inches, (b) they have yet to develop central nervous systems, and (c) medical experts say that, even at 20 weeks, fetuses are not yet capable of grasping…um…anything.

    So there’s not a scintilla of proof to back him up. The closest thing is a 1996 letter to a medical journal, written by two Italian doctors who had looked at an ultrasound and thought they saw a female fetus doing something that seemed pleasurable – but that fetus was 35 weeks.


    Dwelling within the bubble

    All told, it’s probably a waste of time to fact-check the House Republicans with real-world evidence anyway, because we all know what they’re really doing.

    Their anti-abortion bill has zero chance of ever becoming law; the Senate will ignore it, President Obama would veto it, and even if it did manage to become law, the courts would shelve it for being unconstitutional. (Roe v. Wade guarantees legal abortion up to the point of viability, at around 24 weeks; two fetal pain laws, in Idaho and Arizona, have already been thrown out by the courts.) The House Republicans are well aware, politically and constitutionally, that their latest assault on women’s health is DOA.

    Doesn’t matter. Because this fetal-pain thing is really what I like to call a Bubble Bill. It’s intended only to sate the appetities of the right-wing minority that dwells within the bubble. It’s all about Republican politicians telling the bubble-dwellers that they all share the same conservative values, “so there’s no need to primary us from the right in 2014.” Indeed, this is all about 2014. For Republican incumbents, success in midterm elections hinges on ginning up turnout among the older, whiter, most ideological voters. And those voters do love their Bubble Bills.

    Granted, the House Republicans have been urged by party leaders to lay off the social/cultural issues, stop alienating women, and focus instead on bread-and butter economic issues. But why waste valuable time and effort on boring stuff like…oh I dunno, job growth…when there’s such a compelling need to educate the public about masturbating fetuses?

    No word yet from Burgess on whether they read Playboy magazine just for the articles.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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