The issue of women’s reproductive health has become more and more central to politics over the past several weeks, with Republicans taking shots at Planned Parenthood over fetal tissue research, and Democrats railing against the extreme positions being taken by leading Republican presidential candidates. On the latter count, liberals have taken up the story of an 11 year-old girl from Paraguay who was denied an abortion after her stepfather allegedly raped her, and who has now given birth:
The Paraguayan child sexual assault case attracted international outrage: A 10-year-old girl’s stepfather allegedly raped and impregnated her, and officials denied her mother’s request for an abortion. When her story came to light in April, the girl was already 22 weeks pregnant.
On Thursday, the now-11-year-old girl she gave birth at a Red Cross hospital in the capital city, according to numerous reports. The baby was born via cesarean section and doctors reported no complications, Elizabeth Torales, a lawyer for the girl’s mother, told the Associated Press.
The story illustrates the possible real-life consequences of the position that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) rolled out at last Thursday’s debate when he said he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. The Paraguayan girl was denied an abortion because, even though the pregnancy presented health risks, government officials (not the girl’s doctors) decided that those risks were not sufficient to merit an exception for the life of the mother.
As terrible as it is that this girl was forced to carry her rapist’s baby, though, her outcome would be a silver lining under Dr. Scott Walker‘s (R-WI) reproductive rights regimen. At the same debate last week, Walker confirmed that he opposes abortion, even when the life of the mother is at risk.
These are the choices being presented by leading Republican candidates, and there are real-life cautionary tales from around the world to see what those choices can do to women. Most famously, a woman in Ireland died a few years back when she was denied an abortion that could have saved her life, but laws like the ones Rubio and Walker propose would have wider effects than those you can read in these extreme news stories:
In countries where abortion is totally banned, the rates of maternal mortality rise because doctors are unable or too afraid to provide life-saving treatment when it can affect a pregnancy, even when it’s the only way to save a mother’s life, according to rights group Amnesty International. Outright abortion bans also mean women are more likely to undergo dangerous backstreet abortions, which put their lives at risk.
That chilling effect would be even worse under a President Mike Huckabee, who at that same debate espoused a policy of full personhood at conception, which could dissuade doctors from treating even pregnant women who intend to carry a child to term, if that treatment posed a risk to the unborn child.
The problem with cautionary tales like these, though, is that they force abortion rights advocates into fighting a rearguard action against the worst of the worst, instead of making progress for reproductive rights. The line is drawn so far to the extreme that the question has now become “When can the government control a woman’s private medical decisions with her doctor?”, rather than whether Scott Walker or Marco Rubio should have any say at all. Last time I checked, they were both several credits shy of a medical degree.
It’s a truly sad state of affairs that people who care about the health and safety of women have to rejoice that Donald Trump is leading the Republican field, and cross their fingers that he keeps it up.