Joe Lieberman on Rape Victims’ Reproductive Rights – And a Related Curiosity about Abortion Jurisprudence

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First of all, thanks to Ann & the gang for the invitation to guest blog.   I deal with gender issues frequently in my employment discrimination and constitutional law classes and writings, so I’m very much looking forward to this stint.

As a political junkie, I’ve been enthralled by this coming Tuesday’s Connesticut Senate primary — the one that 18-year incumbent Joe Lieberman may well lose to the challenger who came out of nowhere, Ned Lamont.   99% of the race has been about Iraq, and one of the main defenses of Lieberman is that while he’s pro-war position, he’s also a lifelong progressive on virtually all other issues.   In his one Senate debate against Lamont, Lieberman specifically touted his long-term endorsements by pro-choice organizations.

On at least one issue, though, Lieberman has departed from a pattern of strong support for reproductive rights: he supports hospitals’ right to refuse emergency contraception to rape victims.   This is from the Hartford Courant:

Consider [Lieberman’s] remarks about . . . a bill that would force all hospitals to offer emergency contraceptive pills to rape victims.

Lieberman said the Catholic hospitals shouldn’t have to hand out the pills and that transportation should instead be provided, for the rape victim, to some other hospital. He said, “In Connecticut, it shouldn’t take more than a short ride to get to another hospital.”

Wow. You’ve got a woman who has been raped. She’s shattered, shivering, sobbing, frightened. It’s 3 a.m. She just spent hours at St. Somebody for the humiliating and invasive process of evidence collection. Now you’re going to hustle her into a cab or shuttle bus to go somewhere else and get a pill that would keep her from bearing the rapist’s child because you can’t stand to prick the conscience of a hospital administrator? . . .

It’s not even axiomatic that the hospital wants this help. Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford tightened the rules against emergency contraception for rape victims a few months ago. Catholic hospitals in Connecticut now are stricter than their counterparts in some neighboring states. The people who work at the hospital may be a lot more comfortable helping a rape victim avoid pregnancy. It’s really the archbishop we’re lavishing care on.

Lieberman boasts a very favorable lifetime rating of 95 percent from NARAL. With a callous line like the “short ride” comment, he’s almost inviting women to desert him.

This sort of surmountable but troubling burden on reproductive rights brings me to a broader pet peeve.   While we can debate the point in pregnancy at which it’s “too late” for abortion (13 weeks? 6 months?), I think most on both sides would agree: earlier is better.   But those aiming to restrict abortion don’t advocate laws saying, “no abortions after X weeks”; they push various piecemeal restrictions, like waiting periods,  “informed consent” provisions, and limits on emergency contraception during the first  72 hours or so.

Here’s the kicker: these restrictions ultimately delay the point at which women get abortions.   With a waiting period of even 24 or 48 hours, a 10th week abortion easily may become an 11th week abortion (e.g., when the woman has to wait until next week to take her next day off work).   Delaying abortions to later stages doesn’t square with the fact that later abortions are more, not less, problematic to those troubled by abortopn.

In fairness to the anti-abortion forces, this “restrictions, not a cutoff” idea isn’t their strategy choice: this litany of restrictions is what the Supreme Ct allows; the Ct doesn’t allow any “no abortion” cutoff (at least not before viability).   This is yet another reason I dislike Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the decision that preserved a constitutional right to abortion but gutted Roe, allowing the litany of restrictions with which states are experimenting today.

– Scott Moss

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