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As a gynecologist, Roe knows better than the lies he launders

Jennie Young, Community Voices Columnist • Apr 27, 2019 at 8:00 AM

I’d been expecting Rep. Phil Roe to launder and propel along two of the notorious lies from Trump’s State of the Union address (1-30-19), and was surprised it took him until April 6 to get around to it. I figured he would avoid the inflammatory “red-meat” rhetoric so loved by Trump, but still craft language to create controversy and poison political discourse.

Here are Trump’s lies. “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” “And then we had the case of the governor of Virginia where he basically stated he would execute a baby after birth.”

Here’s Roe’s newsletter version: “The fact that there are elected officials in places like New York and Virginia — and the U.S. House — who are working to extend the timeline of abortion availability right up until the moment of birth sickens me to my core.” Phil Roe knows better than to join in such willful trampling of truth, but he will do his part to promote this perceived sure-fire election wedge issue, with emotionally charged language about heartless infanticide. It certainly does invigorate some social conservatives, a reliable Republican voting bloc, and is likely to find a receptive audience.

The purpose of both the New York and Virginia bills was to codify in state law abortion rights as long provided by Roe v. Wade, which in the third trimester can involve very special, very tragic, and very rare cases. In New York abortion law was simply moved from the criminal code into a new section of public health code. That’s it. The Virginia legislation, still in committee, would slightly loosen current restrictions on late-term abortions, allowing that, in those rarest of circumstances, only one provider was necessary to approve the procedure, rather than three. It took clever mental acrobatics, video splicing, and ignoring of context to come up with the images of infanticide in Trump’s and Roe’s language. In the wake of adding Kavanaugh and Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, expect similar inflammatory fodder to come forth when other states move to protect women’s reproductive rights in response to anticipated efforts to roll back all or parts of Roe v. Wade.

Because he spent his professional years as a gynecologist who, as he says, delivered nearly 5,000 babies, Roe knows well as anyone that women who carry pregnancies to term, or “moments before birth” by Trump’s language, do not decide to terminate pregnancies. It doesn’t happen, and he should say so. Extremely rare are the tragic cases when a woman with nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities goes into labor (which is what the governor of Virginia, a pediatric neurologist, referenced in his misinterpreted statement).

People in position to know the weight of those circumstances, like Phil Roe, should be adamant that what transpires be left to the patient and her family, along with her doctors and spiritual guidance. There are very rare cases, too, when bringing a pregnancy to term threatens the life of the woman, and I won’t believe that responsible doctors faced with a woman in such crisis should, as an arbitrary moral imperative, inform her that, too bad, those are the cards she has been dealt and nature must take its course. In another aspect of this complex issue, with menses in developed countries, like the U.S., now starting as early even as 8 years old, I also cannot believe that a physician would of course commiserate with the parents and their pregnant 10-year-old child, say, but send them on their way to see it through. That sounds like the Dark Ages all over.

Because of this recent manufactured uproar, congressional Republicans are making a big deal of their Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and Roe boasts of being a sponsor. He’s proud because, if passed, it would supposedly force the 24 states that “lack protections for born-alive infants” to shape up. What he doesn’t tell you is that this is a meaningless demonstration, contrived entirely to drum up support among social conservatives, which won’t pass either House or Senate. It’s meaningless, too, because federal laws already exist to protect babies born at any stage after an abortion attempt, passed with bipartisan support in 2002 under George Bush. The current effort would add criminal penalties designed to malign and threaten abortion providers, which the head of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called a “gross legislative interference into the practice of medicine, putting politicians between women and their trusted doctors”. It’s main and actual purpose, though, is to falsely malign the other party.

This shouldn’t be an issue for game playing and Roe discredits his former profession, and the intelligence of constituents, to speak so. His long experience in a complex, intensely personal field surely taught him that adopting inflexibility here means separation from the facts and practicalities of the real world. He must know better, we should know better, than to resort in such circumstances to a crude and blunt instrument like state politics for our answers.

Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a retired language arts teacher.

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